When it comes to booming hits, delicate passes and players strewn all over the ground in front of a cacophonous crowd, Ed Hollier Field has nothing on Cliff Massie Court.
The Soldotna volleyball team defeated Northern Lights Conference archrival Kenai Central 18-25, 25-15, 26-24 and 25-23 in a match that picked up where the previous weekend’s SoHi-Kenai football game left off.
Both squads have speed and strength training programs in their school, and it was evident on the floor Friday.
“It’s a fast ball,” Soldotna coach Sheila Kupferschmid said after her team moved to 3-3 in the league and 9-3 in nontournament play. “These girls play fast and hard.”
It took two games for the squads to settle in, eventually getting down to business in Games 3 and 4.
In the first game, SoHi came out nervous and Kenai came out fired up. Cierra King, who finished with five stuff blocks, four kills and three aces, had six straight service points for a 13-8 lead. Kenai would hold that margin the rest of the game.
“It was Kenai’s home court,” said SoHi’s Sylvia Tuisaula, who had five kills and five aces. “We were a little nervous, but we came back after that and we fought.”
The Stars settled down in the second game, while Kenai coach Tracie Beck said her squad had a bit of a letdown. That resulted in a comfortable win in which five straight service points from Tuisaula gave the Stars a 19-9 lead.
Beck said the Kards had the same rotation as in Game 1, but learned a vital lesson about lessening the energy in a high-voltage match.
“In this region, you have to continue to push hard,” Beck said. “Once you beat a team, it’s unacceptable to let them come back and beat you.”
In the third and fourth games, SoHi took early leads only to have Kenai almost storm back for the wins.
In Game 3, Makenna Rosin, who had seven kills, five aces and four blocks, served out six straight points for an 11-3 lead. But Kenai came all the way back to tie it at 16 on an Alli Steinbeck kill.
The game was still tied at 24 when Kenai’s Caleigh Johnson missed a serve in the corner by such a narrow margin that it was originally ruled as good before being ruled out. Rosin then put away the match with a kill.
In the fourth game, Judah Aley, who finished with 12 kills and two aces, gave the Stars a 20-12 advantage with a kill.
But Kenai clawed its way back, getting three straight service points from Alexis Baker, who had 16 digs, for a 21-19 game.
The Kards would tie it at 22, but missed two serves and had a hitting error in falling short of Game 5.
Beck chalked the close losses up to not enough mental toughness by her team, but she still sees Friday as a crucial step forward. In the five seasons previous to this, Kenai was 2-48 in league play. The Kards don’t have much experience in matches like Friday.
“We’re doing what we haven’t done before,” Beck said. “The goal isn’t to peak now, it’s to peak at regions.
“This is the type of match where you can’t wait until the weekend is over so you can get back in the gym and work to improve.”
Kupferschmid agreed it was a great experience to put her club under the pressure of being on the road in a tough environment and see what still needs work.
“We’ve still got four of five weeks left to play our best volleyball,” she said.
One area sure to get a lot of work from the coaches is passing, particularly serve-receive.
Kupferschmid said when setter Lindsey Wong, who had 30 assists, three blocks and two aces, was able to get a good pass, she did a great job running the offense.
When Kenai would focus on Rosin and Drewe Zeek in the middle, Wong would find Tuisaula and Aley on the outside.
“They definitely have a good block,” Tuisaula said. “They were camping in the middle so that freed us up most of the time.”
Beck also said a good pass is vital. Team always have to be aware of Abby Beck, who had 10 kills and two aces, so a good pass puts other hitters in the offense and makes Kenai tough to stop.
“When we have a good pass, we can use four hitters, as opposed to one,” coach Beck said.
Cori Holmes added 20 digs for the Kards, while Emily Koziczkowski had seven kills.