The visiting Soldotna volleyball team notched a 25-16, 25-15 and 25-22 win over Nikiski in nonconference play Tuesday.
The Stars move to 1-2 overall in nontournament play, while the Bulldogs fall to 0-2.
In many ways, the Stars and Bulldogs are in the same boat. While they don’t look young on rosters — SoHi has six seniors while Nikiski has five — a lot of those players are lacking quality varsity experience because last season was so short due to the pandemic.
With senior setter Emma Brantley working through an injury, Soldotna coach Luke Baumer was happy with the way his team adjusted and pulled out the victory.
“We just have a lot of athletic players, and that’s huge for us,” Baumer said.
Senior Jolie Widaman started out the season playing opposite hitter, but had been a setter for the last three seasons. So Widaman took the setter position while freshman Sadie Lane slid in at opposite hitter.
“Sadie has been awesome,” Baumer said.
After cruising to a 25-16 victory in Game 1, Baumer started mixing in more and more younger players in Game 2. The Stars still won 25-16.
“Chemistry is everything, especially, in my opinion, in volleyball,” Baumer said. “Once they start clicking with each other, you see the success start to rise.
“And they were definitely clicking well tonight in varsity.”
As he mixed in young players, Baumer said it helped to still have stalwarts like Aleena Zener, Widaman, Katelyn Morrison and Chloe Armstrong still on the floor. Zener had nine digs and four aces, while Widaman had 12 assists and Adarra Hagelund had six kills.
Nikiski made Baumer sweat out his decision to mix in younger players by making Game 3 close. A kill by Rylee Ellis put the Bulldogs up 19-18, but Hagelund would put down a kill to tie it at 20.
Soldotna’s Karly Johnson had a kill for a 24-20 game. Another kill by Ellis closed the score to 24-22, but a hitting error by the Bulldogs closed the game.
“That’s the way I believe you learn in this sport,” Baumer said of keeping the younger players in. “If you pull them out when things get tough, then they don’t understand how to get themselves out of it.”
For the Bulldogs, Jaycee Tauriainen had nine assists and five digs, Ashlynne Playle had five kills and three blocks, Maggie Grenier had three digs, Savanna Stock had eight assists, Rylee Ellis had six kills and Camry Ellis had three digs.
“Very young and lack of experience on varsity, for sure,” Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said of her team. “Last year really hurt us, not being able to leave the peninsula, going to those big tournaments and getting more experience together as a team.”
Segura said her team needs experience and needs to learn making mistakes is the way to learn. That’s why hosting Homer at 6 p.m. today, then traveling to the game-heavy West Spiketacular this weekend will be beneficial.
“I have really good kids with good attitudes and they work really hard,” Segura said. “They’re trying to figure it out themselves.”
After seeing Nikiski earlier in the season, Baumer said the improvement is obvious.
“We were sitting there watching them warm up and were like, ‘This is not the same team,” Baumer said. “It’s not going to be like this next year. It’s not going to be like this down the road. It won’t even be like this later in the season.”