It was fitting that Tuesday’s volleyball match between Soldotna and Seward was at Soldotna Prep, because both teams wanted to use the nonconference affair to prepare for big conference matches next Tuesday.
The Stars got what they wanted out of the match, notching a 25-9, 25-14 and 25-15 victory.
Soldotna, now 11-3 overall, will travel to Kenai Central on Tuesday at 6 p.m. for a pivotal Northern Lights Conference match as the Stars chase the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Seward, now 8-6 overall, will host Southcentral Conference rival Nikiski at 5 p.m. as the two squads also chase favorable seeds in postseason action.
Soldotna coach Sheila Kupferschmid said the week away from competition will be good for her squad as it gets healthy and settled after recent injuries, but that’s only if the Stars don’t let their competitive edge dip in practice.
The coach said the way Soldotna handled Seward bodes well. The Stars swept Seward earlier this year, but the games were much closer.
“We didn’t have a good match in Seward,” Kupferschmid said. “We met as a team after that match. The kids brought a lot more energy and passion tonight.”
Soldotna, particularly in the first game, showed how good of a serving team it can be as the Stars gave Seward’s serve-receive fits.
Shaylynn Zener led with 12 service points on the evening, while Taylor Earll had 11, Cally Christianson and Kodi McGillivary had nine and Ituau Tuisaula had six. Kupferschmid said the strong serving was key because in SoHi’s last match — a five-set loss to Palmer on Friday — the Stars had missed 21 serves.
Seward coach Jaime Frederickson said her squad didn’t respond well to SoHi’s increased energy.
“Our last time at Seward, we lost in three games but we did really well and had close games,” Frederickson said. “I knew that team wouldn’t want to let that happen again.
“I think our players knew it, too. There’s the thought that, ‘Oh no, they’re going to be coming at us.’”
Frederickson said Soldotna had the clear height advantage, particularly with Drewe Zeek at 6-foot-1. But there are still opportunities for growth.
“What’s great about a game like this is to see the girls test themselves and see what they can do,” the coach said. “They did that in Seward. They didn’t do it here.”
Seward was active on defense, but with Soldotna’s array of hitters, the ball was eventually going to get down. The Seahawks also were missing standout libero Kimmie Hubbard due to illness, forcing middle hitters Riley Von Borstel, Maggie Adkins and Gabby Keeter to pass from the back row.
Tuisaula had six kills, while Zeek and Aliann Schmidt had five and McGillivary had three. Zeek and Schmidt added a pair of blocks.
Kupferschmid said all of those players are coming on at the right time.
“Drewe Zeek is playing the best ball she has all season, and she’s only going to get better,” said Kupferschmid, who also got nine passes from Christianson and eight passes apiece from Abi Tuttle and Zener. “I’d like to see some school pick her up.”
The coach said the sophomore McGillivary, especially with her improving jump serve, is doing a good job filling in for injured senior Judah Aley. Kupferschmid that obviously McGillivary can’t fill Aley’s shoes, but that the sophomore is providing a crucial threat.
Schmidt, another sophomore, also is starting to fulfill her potential.
“She’s a great athlete,” Kupferschmid said. “Now we just have to turn her into a volleyball player.”