By JEREMIAH BARTZ
PALMER — As the Soldotna Stars tried to close out Palmer in the fourth game Thursday afternoon, the Moose put together a run. The Stars had held a five-point lead, but suddenly faced a four-point deficit.
In the end, Soldotna prevailed in an opening-round match at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Colony High School in Palmer to earn a second-straight Class 4A state berth. The Stars were able to cement a spot at state after just one game because the five-team conference gets three state berths.
Soldotna used a Bailey Leach service ace and a pair of Aliann Schmidt kills late to cement a 3-1 win over the Moose.
Leach collected back-to-back aces early in the fourth game to give Soldotna the 11-6 lead, and added another ace late to push SoHi ahead 22-21.
“I thought our serving gave them some trouble,” Soldotna head coach Shelia Kupferschmid said after the win. “We’ve worked on that most of the end of the year. It really paid off for us.”
Kupferschmid said senior Kodi McGillivray was also a key for the Stars.
“She had an awesome match today,” Kupferschmid said. “Defensively, she had some nice plays. She was our top point-getter today, and at crucial times.”
Kupferschmid said her team’s play around the net and the work of libero Holleigh Jaime also factored into the win.
“We won the net game,” Kupferschmid said. “They could not contain our hitters.”
Leach and Ituau Tuisaula finished with nine kills each for the Stars. Schmidt added eight. Jaime collected 15 digs. Carsen Brown led Soldotna with 25 assists.
Colony is also headed to state. The fifth-seeded Knights (2-6 during the regular season) swept fourth-seeded Kodiak earlier in the day. The Knights to continue to roll with a 3-0 win over Wasilla, which entered the tourney as the top seed and an 8-0 conference record during the regular season.
The second-seeded Stars will play Colony on Friday at 1 p.m. for a spot in the NLC title match.