One week after losing one of their best players to a season-ending injury, the Soldotna Stars volleyball team had a lot to play for Friday night, and protecting their home court was an added bonus.
SoHi rallied back from losing the opening set to Kenai Central to claim a 3-1 Northern Lights Conference victory, with scores of 21-25, 25-17, 25-22 and 25-22.
Last Friday at the West Spiketacular in Anchorage, senior outside hitter Judah Aley went down with a knee injury, and it was revealed before this Friday’s game at Soldotna that Aley had suffered a complete tear of her ACL and meniscus ligaments, as well as her MCL.
SoHi coach Sheila Kupferschmid said the injury is what the doctors called the “triad.” During the match, Aley sat in full uniform on the bench, cheering on her teammates.
“Judah is probably one of the top five hitters in the state,” Kupferschmid said. “This was important to win after losing her, and the kids knew to step it up.”
With Aley out of the picture, SoHi had to scramble to figure out the best rotation, and Kupferschmid praised sophomore Kodi McGillivray for stepping up into a bigger role, as well as senior defensive specialist Taylor Earll.
“(McGillivray) had a key hit in the first set, she hit in a slide to win it, and she came through,” Kupferschmid said. “Taylor just played an excellent back row game.”
McGillivray finished with five kills, tops among SoHi players along with Ella Stenga, while Earll had 12 digs.
Senior middle blocker Drewe Zeek and junior libero Shaylynn Zener, both already established stars of the team, said losing Aley was tough, but the prospect of a state run and the crowd in the Soldotna gym Friday night helped the Stars to win.
“We had to play our best,” Zeek said. “Coach K just told us to control our emotions.”
Zeek ended the night with 14 service points and four kills, while Zener had 37 digs.
“Our block was huge tonight, our serve-receive was difficult but our defense was returning hits,” Zener said. “The fans helped us get in the moment.”
Also for SoHi, Stenga had six service points, Itua Tuisaula notched 12 service points, 11 digs and three kills, Aliann Schmidt had three kills and blocks, and Cally Christianson recorded nine service points.
Soldotna improved to 5-1 in the conference and 7-1 overall this year, while Kenai dropped to 2-2 and 3-3 overall. The night was also special as all funds were donated to the breast cancer research for the “Dig Pink” cause. Both teams sported bright pink jerseys, with SoHi wearing a shade of intense neon.
Kenai jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the first set, which then ballooned to 12-5 before the Stars called timeout. Kenai held a 16-9 lead before SoHi made a late five-point run to close within two points thanks to several kills from Tuisaula.
The Stars forged a 21-all tie with help of Zeek’s potent serving game, but the Kardinals wrapped up the set win with four straight points, starting with a kill from Abby Beck and continuing with a serve point and a kill by Emily Koziczkowski and set point from Cierra King.
SoHi roared back in the second set, taking a 17-11 lead before Kenai called timeout. McGillivray then helped SoHi get to set point with powerful hitting from the outside. A Kenai serve into the netting gave SoHi the win and a 1-1 match tie.
The Kards led 14-10 in the third set before SoHi put on a charge to tie it up. Kenai led as late as 19-17 on a kill point by King, but the Stars ripped off a 7-0 run to get to set point. It took three tries, but SoHi won on a point from the outside.
In the fourth set, a service ace put SoHi up 14-9, but it was nip and tuck for a while until the Stars rolled of four straight points to go up 20-15, capped by a point by Zeek.
From there, SoHi had trouble finishing the job with several serves into the net, but a tip by McGillivray from the middle row ended the match.
The Kardinals rebounded from the defeat by going on the road and sweeping Homer on Saturday in nonconference action.
Grace Christian 3, Nikiski 2
The Bulldogs and Grizzlies rehashed their thrilling match from earlier in the season with another five-set Southcentral Conference clash Friday night in Nikiski.
And, like the first meeting, Grace came away the winners with scores of 25-20, 24-26, 25-11, 12-25 and 15-13.
Sophomore Kelsey Clark paced Nikiski with 23 digs and six aces, while Melanie Sexton racked up 25 digs and seven kills and Jamie Yerkes finished with five aces, 11 kills and 13 digs.
Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said the Bulldogs were up 20-12 in the second game, but let it slip away.
“We definitely had them in three (sets),” Segura said. “Our first game was phenomenal, but the second was pretty disappointing.”
Segura said that senior middle blocker Ayla Pitt went down with an ankle sprain in the second set, which may have led to the slump. Bethany Carstens and Maddy Williams subsequently saw more game time after Pitt’s exit.
After a fifth set that was played nearly point for point, Segura said she has confidence in her squad going forward.
“I don’t think this team is going to lose to Grace a third time,” Segura said.
Pitt had six kills and three blocks before getting hurt, while Katelyn Johnson had seven aces and 18 assists, Carstens notched seven kills and Brianna Vollertsen had six kills.
Nikiski 3, ACS 0
The host Bulldogs swept the Lions in Southcentral Conference action to move to 6-2 in the league at 6-4 overall. The scores were 25-13, 25-9 and 25-23.
After losing Ayla Pitt to a sprained ankle Friday against Grace, Nikiski coach Stacey Segura was happy with the way her team responded.
“It really didn’t look like we lost anyone,” she said.
Segura said senior captain Brianna Vollertsen had a great match, with seven kills and four blocks. Also for Nikiski, Jamie Yerkes had eight aces and four kills, Kaitlyn Johnson had five aces and 12 assists, Maddy Williams had four aces and five kills, Kelsey Clark had 13 digs and Melanie Sexton had 12 digs.
Grace 3, Seward 0
The visiting Grizzlies won 27-25, 25-20 and 25-19 on Saturday to drop the Seahawks to 6-3 in the Southcentral Conference and 6-4 overall.
“It went really well,” Seward coach Jamie Frederickson said. “They were close games, we just happened to lose three of them.”
The coach said libero Kimmie Hubbard and setter Ashley Jackson led a Seward defense that stood up well to Grace’s hard-hitting attack. Frederickson said her whole club passed well enough on defense to give the offense a chance.
Riley Von Borstel had seven kills for Seward, while Tia Miranda had three.
Homer 3, ACS 0
The Mariners picked up a Southcentral Conference sweep Friday night at home over the Lions.