Soldotna senior Aliann Schmidt serves to Nikiski on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna senior Aliann Schmidt serves to Nikiski on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Stars face parity in NLC tourney

The easiest thing for the Soldotna volleyball team to do to earn a second straight Class 4A state berth will be to defeat Palmer today at 3 p.m. in the first round of the Northern Lights Conference volleyball tournament at Colony High School.

Problem is, that’s not going to be easy. The Stars swept two matches from the Moose in early September, but also lost to the Moose in the finals of the Grizzly Invitational in Anchorage in early October.

There will be three state berths up for grabs among the five teams at the tournament. Soldotna is the No. 2 seed at 5-3 in the conference, while Wasilla is No. 1 at 8-0, Palmer is No. 3 at 3-5, Kodiak is No. 4 at 2-6 and Colony is No. 5 at 2-6. The Stars lost twice to Wasilla and once to Colony in conference play.

“It’s going to be tight,” said head coach Sheila Kupferschmid, who led the Stars to a tie for fifth place at state last season for the team’s best finish in the coach’s SoHi tenure, now in its fifth year. “It’s going to be the teams that get the breaks and get the calls. All the teams are pretty equal. They really are.”

If the Stars lose to Palmer, they will have to win two straight matches to get a state berth.

“It’s a tough Palmer team we’re going to face,” Kupferschmid said. “They have the home-area advantage and that is an advantage.

“I’m excited. I have a good group of athletes and hopefully they’re going to play well and play together at this tournament.”

The coach said serving can be crucial. She said Soldotna has the ability to build momentum with tough serving, but missed serves can be as much of a momentum killer.

“Defense is important,” Kupferschmid said. “Our setters need to connect with our hitters. If our team can get swings, they will be tough, but they need to keep the ball off the floor.”

The coach said middles Aliann Schmidt and Bailey Leach have been important all season, but outside hitters Kodi McGillivray, Brittani Blossom and Serena Foglia must provide a threat to allow the middles to operate.

Libero Holleigh Jaime will lead a defense that also will call on Kylie Ness, Kalyn McGillivray, Ituau Tuisaula and Blossom to keep the ball off the floor. Setting will be Carsen Brown, Kalyn McGillivray and Paulyne Catacutan.

“I could go with a lot of different avenues with the lineup,” Kupferschmid said. “I have a lot of good volleyball players. It will depend on which kids perform at the tournament.”

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