Soldotna volleyball coach Sheila Kupferschmid made her seniors earn a triumphant finale on their archrival’s home floor.
In front of a pulsating crowd, the Stars swept host Kenai Central 25-21, 25-11 and 26-24 on Tuesday in nonconference action. Soldotna moved to 11-2 overall, while Kenai fell to 5-3. Both teams will be in action Friday and Saturday at the Grizzly Invite in Anchorage.
With her team ahead 2-0, Kupferschmid made a lineup of her six seniors — Kalyn McGillivray, Carsen Brown, Kodi McGillivray, Brittani Blossom and Aliann Schmidt — for Game 3. The coach also added juniors Bailey Leach and Jaime Holleigh to the mix.
The Kardinals, without a senior on their roster, jumped to a 20-15 Game 3 lead against SoHi’s veterans.
“I think Kenai played well,” Kupferschmid said. “They’re a bunch of underclassmen and they played us tough and competitive. They hung in there.”
With the Kenai crowd at full throat, Kupferschmid said her new lineup did a great job of steadying itself.
Leach, who would finish with five aces, had a kill to cut the gap to 21-18, then served out three points — two aces and a kill by Schmidt — to tie the game at 21. The game also would be knotted at 23 and 24 before a Kodi McGillivray kill and a Kenai hitting error would end it.
“I’m proud of the seniors for coming back like that,” Kupferschmid said. “It’s special. That’s their last time on Kenai’s floor.”
Kenai coach Tracie Beck said it was a step forward for the Kardinals, a Class 3A school, to hang with the Stars, one of the top teams in the Class 4A Northern Lights Conference. Though Kenai is young, Beck said the squad keeps getting better by executing what is practiced.
“We worked on serve-receive and we had a lot of quick options tonight, which was fantastic,” Beck said. “Against a team like that, you need a quick set so their big block can’t set up.”
Both coaches said the crowd, complete with plenty of body and face paint, affected the first game. Beck, who did not coach last season, said her players said there were not home crowds like that last season.
“You could feel at first they could feel the pulse of the crowd,” Beck said of her squad. “That’s the amazing thing about Kenai. There’s so much energy when you play here. Great kids.”
Even Kupferschmid’s experienced squad was out of sorts due to the noise.
“The crowd did affect us,” she said. “The kids didn’t play well in the first set. They settled in and got into a routine and rhythm, and volleyball is a game of rhythm.”
The first game was tied at 21 when SoHi took control. Schmidt, who had 10 kills and two blocks, got the ball to server Kylie Ness with a kill. Ness then served out the last three points — two on aces and one on a stuff block by Schmidt and Brittani Blossom, who had eight digs and 10 points off her serve.
Soldotna then rolled to a 25-11 victory in Game 2 with Ituau Tuisaula asserting herself. The junior ended up with 10 kills on just 15 attempts for the match. Jaime Holleigh added seven digs for the Stars.
“Ituau was a dominant player,” Kupferschmid said. “They were not able to contain her swing.”
For Kenai, Jaiden Streiff had seven kills and an ace, Bethany Morris had five kills and an ace, Kaylee Lauritsen and Kailey Hamilton had seven assists apiece, and Jenna Streiff had 16 digs.