The Soldotna-Nikiski volleyball match was close to not happening Tuesday at Nikiski. The nonconference match itself was not nearly as close, with the Stars notching a sweep.
The Stars (7-3 in nontournament play) and Bulldogs (3-3 in nontournament play) were scheduled to play the varsity match at 5 p.m.
However, a storm knocked out the power at Nikiski High School. The junior varsity match took place in the commons under backup lighting, but due to some basketball hoops encroaching on each end of the court, the varsity teams were going to scrimmage.
The referees were just packing up and leaving the building when, at 5:37 p.m., the power came on and the varsity warmups and match commenced in the main gym.
For both the Stars and Bulldogs, the match was a chance to build on the experience at last weekend’s West Spiketacular, where SoHi took second in the Silver Bracket and Nikiski took fifth in the Bronze Bracket.
In winning 25-14, 25-17 and 25-15, the Stars wanted to work on a quicker offense and more aggressive serving.
“We’re trying a faster offense,” said SoHi senior Makenna Rosin, who had six kills and 10 blocks. “We want lower passes and faster swings.
“You can never say we’ve completely got it, but it’s coming along well.”
When the quicker offense was humming, it opened up easier kill opportunities for Rosin and fellow middle hitter Drewe Zeek, who had six kills and 10 blocks.
“I think it was her best match,” SoHi coach Sheila Kupferschmid said of Zeek. “I think it was a real confidence builder for her.
“She is a key for us.”
The coach said Zeek is an imposing figure at 6-foot-1. Kupferschmid added that with Zeek’s work ethic, she could turn into a threat that pulls attention from the outside hitters.
Judah Aley showed just how dangerous she could be from the outside with 10 kills.
The other point of emphasis for the Stars was aggressive serving. Sylvia Tuisaula led the way with 13 points, while Lindsey Wong and Shaylynn Zener each had seven points.
Rosin said Kupferschmid would like most of the seniors to feel comfortable jump-serving, but Tuisaula was definitely the most comfortable Tuesday. In the second game, her seven straight points got the Stars an 8-2 lead.
“Sylvia’s got a good jump serve,” Kupferschmid said. “She just needs repetitions and confidence in what she is doing.”
Wong added 12 assists and six blocks for the Stars, while Kearstin Yarnes had 10 assists.
Despite the loss, Nikiski coach Stacey Segura also said her squad took a step forward in the match.
“We had a tough weekend at the West Spiketacular,” Segura said. “We didn’t do as well as we had planned.
“Tonight, we wanted to work on staying together as a team. Whether we won or lost, we wanted it to be as a team and not as individuals.”
Segura said her team did a great job sticking together, and the coach thought the Bulldogs played at a level that would be good enough to beat fellow schools in the Class 3A Southcentral Conference. It just wasn’t good enough for the Class 4A Stars.
Segura said the Stars gained their biggest advantage through their serve.
“We did have errors in serve-receive and that’s an area where we are struggling,” Segura said. “Those points off serve were the difference in the match.”
Ayla Pitt had four kills and two blocks for the Bulldogs, while Emily Hensley had three assists and 10 aces, Lauren O’Brien had 12 digs and Brianna Vollertson had two blocks.
“Brianna Vollertson played really well,” Segura said. “She was swinging instead pushing the ball back over. That’s something we’ve been working on.”
Segura also said the team is still working on not having the graduated Rachel Thompson on the floor, because Thompson did such a great job of directing everybody where to go.
“She’s not there anymore,” Segura said. “Tonight, I told them, ‘If you think about it, just do it.’ Don’t hesitate. If it doesn’t work out, just get the ball over the net and reset.”
Both coaches said the goal is to improve on weaknesses now, before the region tournament.
That’s when the lights really come on.