The Nikiski volleyball squad incurred a 3-set sweep at the hands of Soldotna — a school that is in a different conference and class — Tuesday night at Nikiski High School, but the words of SoHi coach Sheila Kupferschmid had Nikiski coach Stacey Segura feeling a lot better afterwards.
After defeating the Bulldogs with game scores of 25-22, 25-15 and 25-17, Kupferschmid said that Nikiski is a much-improved team, after seeing what the Bulldogs threw at them earlier in the year.
“I’m very grateful to hear that,” Segura said. “I know my team’s gotten better, but it’s nice to hear that from an opponent.”
After the two teams met early in the season, Kupferschmid said Tuesday’s match not only showed to her how strong Nikiski is, but more importantly how strong her own team is in advance of this weekend’s roadtrip for a three-day swing against the “Valley teams” — Wasilla, Colony and Palmer.
“We have a lot of work ahead, and I wish I could have more practices, but we don’t,” Kupferschmid said. “Whenever we can have matches like this, game situations, it’s good.”
Soldotna boosted its overall record to 7-2 overall, while Nikiski dropped to 7-5.
Both schools fared well over the weekend while on the road. Soldotna split with Northern Lights Conference opponent Kodiak, winning the match that counts towards the standings, while Nikiski swept Bethel on its own court.
“I told the girls after the last game against Soldotna, you guys have something to prove to them,” Segura said. “You’re either going to sit down and lay a goose egg or you’re going to go out there and play better than last time.”
Nikiski’s defensive work helped keep all three games close, as libero Laura Hufford’s 14 digs led the team. Teammate Rachel Thompson provided 13 assists and four kills, Ayla Pitt had three kills and three blocks, and Lauren O’Brien added an ace.
Senior Haley Miller bolstered the Stars with a hot serving game, helping SoHi dig out of deficits in the final two sets. Miller ended the night with six service points and two kills.
“I like her mindset,” Kupferschmid said. “She’s an athlete, and she performs like an athlete.
“We were in a rut, and I think her run changed momentum and carried us through.”
SoHi libero Alex Ashe provided 20 digs, 10 service aces and four service aces, Hayley Ramsell had seven kills and five digs, Bailey Rosin notched eight digs and four kills, and Skylar Shaw had 10 digs, six service points and five kills.
After winning the first set by a scant three points, SoHi trailed early in both of the final two sets.
In the second one, Nikiski streaked out to a quick 5-0 lead, then moved it to 10-6 with some tough play at the net.
“I didn’t want to give the girls anything huge to focus on against Soldotna, because I knew they were more advanced and the offense is faster,” Segura said.
Segura said the importance of performing as a unit and communicating was paramount against a Class 4A school like Soldotna.
“They can definitely piece you apart,” Segura said. “They’re good enough that balls will drop in between you and you don’t really know where it’ll go, so I wanted to make sure we focused on the team and not so much ourselves.”
Facing a four-point deficit, the Stars reeled off 10 straight points to grab a six-point advantage, a number of those coming on serves from Miller that Nikiski was unable to return. The closest the Bulldogs got to the Stars from there was 17-15 after Hufford sent out a service ace, but SoHi finished off with eight straight points to grab the win, aided by a few nasty kill points from Lindsey Wong.
Nikiski found itself leading with 10 points once again in the third set, but Soldotna rallied back to take the lead with eight straight points, and closed with another strong serving performance by Wong.
With the victory in hand, Soldotna will see its next competition Thursday night at Wasilla, while Nikiski will travel to Homer next Tuesday.