Nikiski’s Emma Wik (6) and Bethany Carstens team up for a block Friday against Grace Christian at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Emma Wik (6) and Bethany Carstens team up for a block Friday against Grace Christian at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

State 3A volleyball: Nikiski back in championship final

Two years after suffering a letdown in the Class 3A state final, the Nikiski Bulldogs are back in the championship game, thanks to a dominant sweep Friday night over Grace Christian.

Nikiski won with scores of 29-27, 25-17 and 25-19, and while the match went quicker than last week’s five-set thriller over Grace at the Southcentral Conference tournament, Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura said it still packed all the intensity.

“I feel like it went five games,” Segura said. “It felt like every point lasted forever.”

In 2016, Nikiski won the region title and used the momentum to fuel a deep state run that went to the state title match against Mt. Edgecumbe, a team the Bulldogs had beaten a day before in the semifinals.

However, the Bulldogs never found their footing against the Braves in the final, losing all three sets, then losing the 30-point “if-necessary” match to finish second at state.

Seven hundred and twenty-seven days later, Nikiski has a second chance.

“Most of us have already been to state once,” said senior hitter Bethany Carstens. “So we all know what to expect.”

Carstens, who dominated the court with 15 kills and 10 blocks Friday night, was a sophomore the last time Nikiski played in the state final and clearly remembers the defeat. The middle hitter said this year’s team is more experienced and ready for a fight.

“Last time, we beat the team the day before, so we thought, ‘Oh we’ll beat them again’,” Carstens said. “This time we’re really going to have to work to beat them again.”

In other games Friday, the Homer Mariners survived and advanced twice before meeting the defending state champion Valdez Buccaneers in the elimination bracket semifinal. Homer beat Barrow in three sets and Monroe Catholic in five before losing to Valdez 3-0 to end its season with a 2-2 showing at state.

In the semifinal against Grace, the Bulldogs used a suffocating front line and serve-receive to stifle the Grizzlies. In addition to Carstens’ 10 blocks at the net, six-foot junior Kaycee Bostic notched seven blocks to go with nine kills and junior setter Kaitlyn Johnson scored seven kills, along with 14 digs and 16 assists.

“This is the best I think I’ve ever seen us block,” Segura said.

Also for Nikiski, senior libero Kelsey Clark provided 31 digs, Lillian Carstens and America Jeffreys had 13 digs apiece and senior Emma Wik added 20 assists.

Essentially the only drama of the night happened early, as Nikiski let a 23-19 lead slip away in the first set. Grace rolled off four unanswered points to tie it at 23-all, then took set point on a hit into the net by Lillian Carstens.

The Bulldogs responded with two points of their own as the Grizzlies served the ball out of bounds and Johnson struck with a serve point to put Nikiski ahead 25-24.

A tip by Grace’s Jordyn Liedike kept Nikiski from winning the set, and Grace went up 26-25 on a Nikiski serve out of bounds. A kill by Bethany Carstens gave Nikiski set point again at 27-26, but Grace erased it.

Finally, a net violation by Grace left Nikiski with its third set point opportunity, and the Bulldogs delivered with a strike by Carstens down the Grizzlies sideline.

From there, the Grizzlies never led again as the Bulldogs won wire-to-wire in the final two sets. Segura said she believes the momentum into Saturday’s final will be contagious.

“We’re really excited,” Segura said. “We’re not going to go down like two years ago. Win or lose, it’ll be a fight.”

Valdez 3, Homer 0

Valdez kept its season alive and ended Homer’s year with a three-set sweep Friday night with scores of 25-15, 25-22 and 25-17.

Homer had difficulty stringing together points against the defending state champions, but led 21-16 in the second set before giving up a 9-1 run to the Bucs.

Homer 3, Monroe Catholic 2

Prior to falling out, Homer won a second straight elimination game Friday afternoon with a tight five-set victory over the Rams, winning with scores of 25-19, 21-25, 20-25, 25-16 and 15-13.

After falling into a 2-1 match deficit only to rally back by winning the two final sets, Homer coach Sara Pennington said often the biggest obstacle standing in the Mariners’ way is themselves, but her squad was able to pull through when the time called for it.

“Sometimes it’s all mental and we just freak out, and when we go into a hole, we can’t get out of it,” Pennington said. “I blame that (mentality) on our losses, sometimes we just can’t shake off our mistakes.

“I thought it was a mental improvement to come back from down 2 to 1.”

Monroe went up 4-0 in the final set and later took leads of 10-6 and 12-9, just three points away from a match win, but two straight shots fell out for the Rams, setting up Homer to tie it at 12-all on a serve point by Smude.

Carroll lifted Homer into match point with a stinging kill, and the Mariners secured the win when a Monroe player sent the ball into the netting.

After taking a 1-0 match lead following the first set, Homer started slow in the second, giving up an 8-2 lead to Monroe before calling timeout. The Mariners fought back to take a brief 17-16 lead, but the Rams’ Abigail Adam caught fire with several points on stealthy hitting, helping the Rams to a 22-18 lead and eventually the set win.

Monroe then rallied in the third set to take a 2-1 match lead, as Homer led early 12-8. Monroe tied it with Homer at 19 apiece, then won six of the last seven points, helped by strong serving by Tia Campanelli, to win the set and go up 2-1 in the match.

Marina Carroll helped Homer blast out to a 7-0 lead in the fourth set with her service game. Homer took leads of 13-4 and 19-7 before Carroll wrapped it up with three straight points on a kill and two serves, tying the match up and forcing a fifth set.

Homer 3, Barrow 0

The Mariners started their Friday run with a sweep of the Whalers, winning with scores of 25-14, 25-20 and 26-24.

Homer moved out to an 8-1 lead in the first set, with Carroll picking up a handful of service points. Laura Inama later led an 8-2 run with a string of serve points to push the lead to 18-6.

The Whalers’ Jordan Ahgeak chipped in several points to get Barrow started fast in the second set. The Whalers led 16-13 before Homer came on strong with more of Carroll’s service game. The Mariners scored six straight points with two Carroll serves and two Tonda Smude smashes at the net to grab the lead and push it to 19-16 before Barrow called timeout. Inama put Homer at set point with a serve that Barrow failed to return, and Smude and Karmyn Gallios ended it with a stuff block to give the Mariners a 2-0 match lead.

A bevy of Homer mistakes in the third set led to Barrow leading 22-16, but the Mariners staged a late comeback to take it. Barrow led 23-19, just two points away from forcing a fourth set, before Homer netted five consecutive points to take match point at 24-23. A kill by Trinity Manu tied it at 24, but a misplay at the net gave Homer match point yet again, and this time the Mariners delivered with a stuff block by Inama and Carroll.

Nikiski’s Tika Zimmerman sets up a shot Friday afternoon at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Tika Zimmerman sets up a shot Friday afternoon at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Kaycee Bostic (top) watches as teammate Lillian Carstens winds up for a shot Friday afternoon against Grace Christian at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Kaycee Bostic (top) watches as teammate Lillian Carstens winds up for a shot Friday afternoon against Grace Christian at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Kaitlyn Johnson sets up a shot Friday afternoon against Grace Christian at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Kaitlyn Johnson sets up a shot Friday afternoon against Grace Christian at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Laura Inama unleashes a serve Friday against Barrow at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Laura Inama unleashes a serve Friday against Barrow at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Kelli Bishop winds up for a kill point against Barrow’s Sarah Mila (13) Friday at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Kelli Bishop winds up for a kill point against Barrow’s Sarah Mila (13) Friday at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Marina Carroll (21) and Kelli Bishop (1) team up for a block Friday against the Barrow Whalers at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Marina Carroll (21) and Kelli Bishop (1) team up for a block Friday against the Barrow Whalers at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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