The host Soldotna volleyball team persevered for an emotionally draining 17-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-23 and 15-9 victory over Northern Lights Conference rival Palmer on Friday.
The Stars followed that up with a 25-19, 20-25, 22-25, 25-22 and 15-13 victory over the Moose on Saturday to move to 4-0 in the NLC and 5-0 overall.
Friday’s victory came on “Tip for Tori Night.”
Tori Verba died in an ATV accident in early June. She would have been a freshman at Soldotna High School this year and planned to play for the volleyball team.
“The girls all still wanted her to be a part of the program, from C-team to JV to varsity,” Soldotna head coach Luke Baumer said.
Verba wore No. 2 on the Skyview Middle School volleyball team. At the beginning of the C-team game Friday, there were five SoHi players on the floor along with a No. 2 jersey.
That jersey number was retired and Baumer said it will be with the team at every road and home game.
“Tonight was a very emotional experience for everybody,” Baumer said.
The coach said it was only with support from the largest home crowd of the season, many wearing lime green because it was Verba’s favorite color, that the Soldotna varsity was able to escape from a 2-0 hole to top the Moose.
“Tip for Tori Night” was originally supposed to be Aug. 29 against Nikiski. That date didn’t work out, but the Nikiski team still wanted to be involved with honoring Verba and showed up in full force as probably the loudest Soldotna supporters in the building.
“They tie-dyed a bunch of green shirts and came all the way in from Nikiski,” Baumer said. “I’m blown away they did that.”
The evening got off to a rough start, with Palmer taking the first two games 25-17 and 25-22. In the Game 2 loss, SoHi held a 21-17 lead but Palmer’s Kristen Beames, who would have 15 kills on the evening, had four kills down the stretch to give the Moose the big lead.
In the beginning of Game 3, Palmer coach Jayme Dehart, whose team fell to 0-3 and 0-4, said her squad missed four straight serves to push SoHi ahead. Dehart said the momentum of the match changed entirely.
“They’re a good team and they fed off the momentum,” Dehart said of the Stars.
Baumer said the key to the turnaround was sticking together as a team. Early in the match, Baumer said SoHi was coming together after winning a point, but staying apart after losing a point.
“It’s a team sport,” Baumer said. “We still have to come together after every point.”
By coming together, Baumer said his squad was able to start figuring out a tough challenge.
“Palmer is so good,” Baumer said. “It was huge for us to hang with them.”
In the fourth game, the Stars trailed 23-19, but pulled off six straight points to stay alive. Ituau Tuisaula, who had 19 kills and four blocks, had two kills during the run, while Kylie Ness, who had nine kills and six digs, had a pair of serves that were not returned.
SoHi then rode that momentum to a 7-1 lead in Game 5 and never looked back.
“I told them that the games like they just played tonight are what gives you the biggest boost in your season,” Baumer said. “Not practices, not tournaments, not anything are as productive as what we were able to do tonight.”
Sierra Kuntz had 11 assists for SoHi, while Hosanna Van Hout added eight assists. Serena Foglia had four kills and three blocks, Bailey Armstrong had seven kills and Holleigh Jaime had 20 digs.
For Palmer, Maegan Grogan had 17 digs and Talia Villnerve had nine kills. Dehart also said Carli Bowen had a big night blocking for the Moose.
Saturday, it was Soldotna starting out strong. Baumer said Palmer’s setter was injured Friday night and Beames was taking a test, so Baumer figured the Stars could roll to victory and adjusted his lineup accordingly.
Then all of a sudden Beames ran back into the gym during the second set and the momentum changed, with Palmer taking the next two games.
Baumer said he was proud of his team for winning those last two games with their backs against the wall. The coach said his team started hitting again, which was important because offspeed stuff wasn’t working against the quick Moose.