The Soldotna Stars rallied from behind to win a 3-2 dogfight over Nikiski in nonconference volleyball action Tuesday night at Nikiski High School, with scores of 11-25, 25-18, 19-25, 25-12 and the winner-take-all set 15-11.
Facing a determined Class 3A home team, SoHi dug deep to come out on top, and as junior libero Shaylynn Zener put it, the team had to “dig out of quicksand.”
“(Assistant) coach Luke (Baumer) talked about it over the weekend with us, he used a quote from the movie, ‘The Replacements,’” Zener said.
The Class 4A Stars finished 2-1 over a tough three-day stretch of Northern Lights Conference games against Wasilla, Palmer and Colony last weekend, and as the lesson goes in “The Replacements,” “You think everything is going fine, then one thing goes wrong, and then another, and another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink.”
Against a steadfast Nikiski defense, Soldotna had to use every ounce of offensive firepower to claim the nonconference win. SoHi improved to 6-1 overall with the win.
“That’s a very strong team,” said Soldotna coach Sheila Kupferschmid. “They block well and defend well, and are well-coached.”
For the Bulldogs, a close 3-2 loss to Southcentral Conference opponent and perennial state contender Grace Christian on Sept. 9 only helped bolster their chemistry and strengthen any weaknesses that were exposed.
“The biggest goal tonight was to use Soldotna’s talent to get better,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura.
Zener finished the night with 60 assists. Judah Aley led the offense with eight kills, Drewe Zeek had five kills, Ituau Tuisaula notched eight blocks, Aliann Schmidt had seven blocks, Kody McGillivary ended with 15 set points, and Cally Christianson notched an inspired serving performance to finish with 18 points.
As a libero, Zener was able to appreciate the stout defensive play by the Bulldogs.
“Nikiski has a really nice defense, they have a good back row,” Zener said. “It’s something to admire.”
Segura credited her squad with its best blocking performance of the season. Ayla Pitt led the way with three blocks.
“SoHi has some awesome servers, and it can be a huge difference between staying focused or not,” she said.
Pitt also had five kills, while Bethany Carstens chipped in eight kills. Melanie Sexton notched 52 digs and five kills, Kelsey Clark had 56 digs, and Kaitlyn Johnson had 13 assists and two aces.
SoHi opened the night with a quick 5-0 lead in the first game, only to see Nikiski answer with a 14-1 run that made it tough for the Stars to come back. Pitt strung together several kill points at the net to help the Bulldogs score eight straight points and take a 23-9 lead.
In Game 2, a tough serving performance by Kodi McGillivary helped SoHi take an 8-4 lead, then Tuisaula came on strong with a big offensive attack at the net. An ace serve by Christianson put SoHi up 18-14, then McGillivary finished off the set with another commanding serving performance to tie up the match.
Nikiski got off to a fast start in the third set, taking a 7-2 lead and stretching it to 13-5 before SoHi could respond. The Bulldogs led 20-10 before Kupferschmid was forced to call timeout.
Out of the break, SoHi went on a 9-2 run before Segura called timeout with a 22-19 lead. From there, the Bulldogs finished with three straight points, ending with a service point by libero Kelsey Clark to take a 2-1 match lead.
Soldotna, desperate to stay alive, came out swinging in the fourth set, grabbing a 10-2 lead thanks to quality serving by Zeek and a stifling net presence by Tuisaula.
Schmidt made her presence known late in the match with several strong kill points and Tuisaula forced a fifth game with a kill on match point.
Nikiski jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the final set, only to see SoHi come back with seven unanswered points on the back of Aley, who came alive with a pronounced attack from her outside hitter position. SoHi won the match on a faulty serve by Nikiski that landed in the netting.
Kenai 3, Seward 1
The Kardinals grabbed a nonconference victory over the Seahawks on Tuesday evening.