In building a strong season resume, the Soldotna Stars volleyball team has checked all the boxes in winning the games they ought to be winning.
One of those boxes is the defending Class 3A state champion and rival peninsula squad Nikiski, which the Class 4A Stars have gone undefeated against in 2019.
SoHi swept Nikiski 3-0 Tuesday night on Nikiski’s home floor, winning with scores of 25-11, 25-22 and 25-23, helping the Stars improve to 8-0 in nontournament play this fall, and 3-0 against the Bulldogs in nonconference play.
With the competitive window that Nikiski finds itself in, the peninsula rivalry that the two teams have cultivated has been must-watch volleyball in recent years.
“They’re the best team on the peninsula,” said Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura.
This year, the Stars have had Nikiski’s number. First-year SoHi varsity coach Luke Baumer said he stressed to his team Tuesday not to get too creative against a team that he knew SoHi could beat.
“The biggest thing for us was making sure to do the basics and not getting ahead of ourselves,” Baumer said. “We tend to get a nice, big lead, and then we tend to start to get fancy. We start to do too many shoots and slides and all these other types of really fast, offensive plays, instead of realizing, we’re not in (our) system, we’re not in sync. I told them tonight the key is the basics.
“I want to pass, I want to set, I want to hit.”
The front line of seniors Ituau Tuisaula, Bailey Armstrong and Kylie Ness and junior Morgan Bouschor helped stymie a Nikiski defense notorious for keeping rallies alive and balls inside the lines. Instead, the Bulldogs gave away numerous points on balls falling outside the court.
“I feel like we’re one of the best side-out teams,” Baumer said.
Tuisaula dominated the court with 16 kills and four blocks for SoHi, while Armstrong notched five kills and three blocks. Bouschor added four kills and Ness had three.
Helping the offense was junior Sierra Kuntz with 24 assists, while senior libero Holleigh Jaime had nine digs on defense and Ness had six.
Segura said after taking two important Southcentral Conference matches from Anchorage and Grace Christian schools last weekend, the Bulldogs were faced with a change in pace.
“We’re coming off two games that I felt were slower for us, so we knew this game was going to be much faster,” Segura said. “We were just making the adjustments to the speed tonight, and struggling with it. Especially in the first game.”
SoHi scored the first five points to start the night en route to taking a daunting 8-1 lead in the first set. It established a trend for SoHi throughout the match, as the Stars got off to fast starts in all three sets.
“I think the girls wanted to do so well, that they were overthinking it,” Segura said. “I think once they realized that SoHi’s going to come out and not going to back down, it’s a different story.”
In Game 1, SoHi took a lead of 14-5 before Nikiski was forced to call timeout, but the speed continued to give the Bulldogs fits as Tuisaula pummeled down kill shots.
In Game 2, SoHi staked out a lead of 5-1 to again force Nikiski to work out of a hole. The Bulldogs did with help from senior Kaycee Bostic, who led Nikiski with six kills, two blocks and three aces. Nikiski also got 15 digs from America Jeffreys, six digs from Rosalie Anderson and eight assists from Kaitlyn Johnson.
SoHi held an 18-12 lead before Nikiski pieced together a furious 8-0 rally to grab a 20-19 lead, forcing SoHi to call timeout.
From there, Tuisaula and Armstrong responded with three straight points, including two service points by Armstrong.
It was SoHi again taking an early lead in Game 3 at 5-2. Nikiski came back to tie it at 16-all, but a couple of service points from junior Abbie Fullenwider gave SoHi a lead it wouldn’t give up again.