After a string of competitive matches between Soldotna and Nikiski in recent seasons, the Stars were able to come out swinging Thursday night in a 3-0 sweep over the Bulldogs at Soldotna High School.
SoHi won with scores of 25-17, 25-13 and 25-15, officially starting the year 1-0 overall and giving new head coach Luke Baumer his first career varsity win at SoHi.
“We knew Nikiski wasn’t going to be easy,” Baumer said. “We know they’re 3A state champs, and this is a great opportunity for the girls to see where they’re at, and see what kind of matchup we can hold up against them.”
The Class 3A Bulldogs are the reigning state champions and have won two of the last three titles in their conference, so when Nikiski has had the chance to face the Class 4A Stars, it’s often been a competitive, high-energy clash.
Thursday, Nikiski showed that it still has the talent to compete with a larger opponent, but couldn’t find a way to crack SoHi’s dominant front line.
Baumer stressed the importance of a team-first philosophy by praising the defensive collaboration the Stars showcased on the floor against an equally tough Nikiski defense.
“They all (stepped up),” he said. “It’s not one person, it’s everybody. Everybody’s got to be together and pick each other up when we’re in those droughts and those sticky moments when we can’t get out of serve-receive. Tonight they had an A-plus performance on them, I could not ask for a better showing.”
Nikiski failed to record a single ace against Soldotna, something that stood out to Bulldogs head coach Stacey Segura as she reviewed her team’s progress.
“It shows that Soldotna has a great serve-receive,” Segura said. “We’ve had to relearn how to play with this new group, and I feel like we got a lot of glimpses of what we’re capable of.”
Segura credited her defense for keeping Nikiski in the game throughout, even as mistakes were being made on the front line.
“They were playing for every single point,” Segura said. “It’s always nice to play Soldotna, that extra competition is nice to have. It helps speed things up for us.”
After winning the first set, Soldotna turned up the wick even more in set two, rolling out eight straight points midway through the game to claim a dominant 20-7 lead to help the Stars breeze to a 2-0 match lead. Bailey Armstrong helped lead the way with a string of kill points and stuff blocks at the net to stymie the Bulldogs.
Armstrong was joined by seniors Kylie Ness and Ituau Tuisaula in the offensive push in set three, as the Stars raced out to a lead of 5-1, but Nikiski kept close once again with a four-point run to cut the lead to 9-8.
However, that would be as close as Nikiski got the rest of the way. Ness helped power the Stars to a 12-4 run that all but sealed the win and match victory.
Senior setter Kaitlyn Johnson helped keep the Bulldogs humming with a well-rounded game, turning out five assists and six digs to go with five kills. Co-captain and senior America Jeffreys also provided 15 digs, while Angela Dreusedow had five assists.
Senior middle Kaycee Bostic notched four kills and three blocks while Lillian Carstens had three kills and four blocks.
Homer 3, Kodiak 2
The Mariners held off the Bears in nonconference play Thursday night in Homer.