When the Matanuska-Susitna Valley volleyball teams make their rounds of the Kenai Peninsula this time of year, the true depth of the Northern Lights Conference is exposed, and the contenders usually separate themselves from the pretenders.
Soldotna is quickly showing that they are one of the teams to beat, pulling out a gritty 3-1 victory over Palmer — the reigning region champions — Friday at the Soldotna Prep gym, one day after sweeping Colony in three sets.
The Stars beat the Moose with scores of 23-25, 25-11, 27-25 and 25-23.
“It’s nice to get a win on our home floor,” said Soldotna coach Sheila Kupferschmid.
SoHi improved to 2-2 in NLC play and 6-2 overall.
Coming up clutch for a second straight day was SoHi middle Makenna Rosin, who recorded six kills (and 10 additional points), five blocks and three aces.
“It’s like a new high, knowing that our team can beat them,” Rosin said about Palmer. “They went to state last year, so it kind of keeps them as a final goal.”
Also for SoHi, junior outside hitter Judah Aley had 14 kills, senior Lindsey Wong had 18 points and six aces, and Sylvia Tuisaula had seven kills and five aces.
After giving up a late lead in game 1, SoHi was forced to claw back from a deficit. Late in the game, Palmer cut Soldotna’s lead to 22-21 before Kupferschmid called a timeout. Out of the break, Palmer scored another two point to take the lead, then finished off the 25-23 with a service point.
That did not deter Soldotna. The Stars opened up a 7-2 lead in game 2, then saw it fall to 7-6 before pushing it back out to 14-7 with a strong presence by Hallie Allen and Drewe Zeek. SoHi finished off the set on a 9-1 run to win 25-11 and easily tie the match up at one game apiece.
Palmer took advantage of a few SoHi mistakes at the net, including several dropped balls, to grab a 19-11 lead in the third game.
However, the Stars recovered to work their way back into contention. A kill point by Wong and three straight service points by Tuisaula cut the gap to four. A mistake by Palmer’s Sammy Buresh at the net cut Palmer’s lead to 20-19.
SoHi finally tied things up at 23-all on consecutive service points by Rosin. From there, the two sides traded match points three times before SoHi finally won on a serve by Allen that clipped the net just enough to keep Palmer from returning it.
Kupferschmid praised her squad’s serving prowess for the comeback.
“That was a confidence builder,” she said. “Our hitters came through, they swung hard tonight.”
SoHi’s biggest challenge came in containing Palmer senior libero Carly Venzke, who manned the back line for the Moose and kept the visitors in contention on multiple games.
“She’s very good,” Kupferschmid said. “We had to keep track of her.”
In the fourth set, SoHi started fast to open up an 8-1 lead, then extended it to 14-6. From there, the Stars maintained the margin en route to the set and match win.
“Our back row put in a lot of fight, and our front row executed well with making smart plays,” Rosin said. “Having that 2 to 1 lead, it just gave us more confidence going into the fourth game.”
Soldotna will face Wasilla early Saturday at 11 a.m.