Thanks to a renewed mind-set, the Soldotna volleyball program is back to dancing.
The Stars punched their ticket to the Class 4A state tournament for the first time since 2015 Friday night with a crucial 3-1 match victory over Palmer at the Northern Lights Conference tournament in Kodiak, winning with scores of 20-25, 25-15, 25-17 and 25-18.
“Everyone’s excited and happy,” said a relieved Sheila Kupferschmid, SoHi’s head coach. “They knew their backs were against the wall, and they came together.”
Saturday, Soldotna came back to take second place in the tournament. The Stars topped Wasilla 3-1 to reach the finals against Colony, where SoHi lost 3-2. Kupferschmid said the team is in a good place heading to state.
“Especially with the momentum and confidence the kids displayed, I hope to be competitive at state,” Kupferschmid said.
The tournament sends the top three teams to state, and top seed Colony grabbed one spot with a semifinal win over Wasilla, which ended up taking third at the tourney.
Among the teams going home is Kenai Central, which lost 3-1 to Palmer on Friday. The Kardinals had lost to Soldotna on opening day Thursday with a three-set sweep that dropped them to the second-chance bracket.
As for the Stars, Kupferschmid said a determined attitude helped change the team’s fortunes after losing to Wasilla in a quarterfinal Thursday.
“Our kids did not play well that first match, but I think the kids are playing with a lot of effort and confidence (now),” she said. “It was their tenacity and pushing together, and I told them, the talent will rise to the top. We were more talented.”
Aliann Schmidt delivered 17 kills and nine blocks to help lead the Stars against the Moose, while senior Cally Christianson stepped up with 44 assists and 11 service points. Another senior, Ella Stenga, added seven service points, 10 kills, 10 digs and five blocks to the effort, senior Shaylynn Zener notched 21 service points, seven kills and 13 digs, and Holleigh Jaime had 16 service points and 14 digs.
Stenga and Zener were named first-team all-conference for the Stars, while Kenai libero Hayley Maw was named second-team all-conference in just her first year of playing volleyball. SoHi’s Kalyn McGillivray and Kenai’s Mayzie Potton were on the good sport team.
Soldotna 3, Kodiak 2
Earlier Friday, Soldotna survived and advanced with a five-set thriller over host Kodiak, winning with scores of 25-22, 25-19, 21-25, 23-25 and 15-9.
After taking a 2-0 match lead, Kupferschmid said Kodiak roared back with help from their student section.
“Their atmosphere is crazy,” she said. “Kodiak is just a very good defensive team.
“To have the type of effort and character it took to beat Kodiak on their home floor with the gym packed and yelling, it’s pretty incredible for these kids.”
Schmidt led the way at the net with 15 kills and 11 blocks, while Kodi McGillivray pumped in 20 service points, six kills and two blocks. Stenga added 16 service points, six kills, 20 digs and six blocks, Bailey Leach rattled home 17 service points, eight kills and five blocks, and Christianson totaled 36 assists, 16 service points and eight digs.
Palmer 3, Kenai 1
Kenai Central’s season ended Friday morning with a four-set loss to Palmer. The Moose prevailed with scores of 25-10, 24-26, 25-13 and 25-7.
Kardinals head coach Pako Whannell praised the team’s showing at the end of a challenging season marked by injuries and illness.
“They did a good job with the obstacles this season,” Whannell said. “They ended the season with a really good match.”
Jaiden Streiff tested the Palmer defense with 14 kills and also provided 13 digs, while Bethany Morris notched 16 kills and 14 digs for Kenai.
Additionally, Mayzie Potton orchestrated the passing game with 22 assists and Kailey Hamilton joined in with 14 assists. Sam Kompkoff notched 12 kills, Abby Every had seven kills, Hayley Maw added nine digs and Alyssa Bucho had six digs.
“They just kept a consistent, solid effort,” Whannell said about the team’s seniors. “They helped a lot of the younger girls, who stepped up.”
Soldotna 3, Wasilla 1
The Stars won 18-25, 25-20, 26-24 and 25-17 on Saturday to avenge the Thursday loss to the Warriors.
“We did a total 360 from Thursday,” Kupferschmid said. “It was a total turnaround in every aspect of the game.”
Stenga had eight service points, six kills, 17 digs and four blocks, while Kodi McGillivray had 10 service points and three kills, Zener had 14 service points, five kills and 12 digs, Schmidt had 12 kills and five blocks, Leach had 12 service points, nine kills and two blocks, Jaime had 17 service points and 19 digs, and Christianson had nine service points, 32 assists and a block.
Colony 3, Soldotna 2
The Knights wrapped up the title with a 25-23, 10-25, 25-15, 16-25 and 15-11 victory over the Stars on Saturday.
Kupferschmid said Zener and Schmidt both had monster matches. Schmidt had 11 kills and a block, while Zener had 20 service points, 15 digs and seven kills.
The coach added Jaime provided a solid presence at libero just as she had all tournament.
Also in the match, Kodi McGillivray had 12 service points, five kills, four digs and a block, while Christianson had 12 service points, 29 assists and a kill.