The Kenai Central and Soldotna volleyball squads announced their presence with a strong showing each Friday and Saturday at the West Spiketacular tournament in Anchorage. The Stars and Kardinals both finished in a four-way tie for fifth, along with East and Palmer.
The Bartlett Golden Bears ultimately went on to win the tournament title 2-1 over the South Wolverines.
However, the Stars were dealt a big blow Friday when senior outside hitter Judah Aley went down with a knee injury.
According to SoHi coach Sheila Kupferschmid, Aley rose to contest a ball at the net, but collided with the opposing West Valley hitter’s knee and fell awkwardly to the ground.
Kupferschmid stopped short of pronouncing Aley completely out for the season, but the prospects appeared dim.
“I am brokenhearted for Judah,” Kupferschmid said. “I’ve had her since eighth grade, and her passion is volleyball and she’s put the time in.
“It’s her senior year, and she was one of those athletes that really cared.”
As the most powerful hitter on the team and a key senior leader, Kupferschmid said Aley’s loss will be felt. The coach added that the next strongest hitter on the squad is probably freshman Itua Tuisuala.
It’s the second consecutive season that SoHi has dealt with an injury to a top player. In 2015, senior Makenna Rosin tore her ACL late in the year at the Dimond-Service tournament, and had to watch from the bench as the Stars made it to the state tournament.
Friday’s development left Kupferschmid perplexed as to how it could have happened again.
“I have coached for 33 years, and never have had any ACL injuries until this year,” she said. “I guess the game has progressed, girls are jumping higher and swinging higher. They’ve just become better athletes.”
Unlike Rosin’s exit last year, the Stars still have over a month to reorganize their varsity lineup and experiment with the ideal rotation, but Kupferschmid was dismayed at the thought of losing Aley.
“We’re halfway through the season, and now, we start over again,” she said.
Kenai finished fourth in its pool among eight teams with a 3-4 record. South topped the standings with a perfect 7-0 mark.
In the other pool, Soldotna finished second among nine teams with a 6-2 record, behind only Bartlett at 8-0.
On Saturday morning, Soldotna toppled East 25-22, then beat Wasilla 25-20 before falling short to Bartlett 26-24. Kenai lost to West 25-19 and Colony 25-22.
Friday, the Stars began with a 27-25 victory over Grace Christian, then took their only loss 25-14 to Palmer. SoHi added a 25-19 win over Barrow, a 25-22 win over West Valley and a 25-20 over Ketchikan.
The Kardinals opened with a 25-16 win over Service, then continued with a 25-19 win over Nome, a 25-13 win over Juneau, a 29-28 loss to South that ended due to time constraints, and a 25-22 loss to Kodiak.
Once the brackets were determined, Soldotna was paired with Colony in the Gold bracket semifinals, while Kenai was paired with Bartlett. Both the Stars and Kards lost 2-0 contests to end their tournaments.