The Stars find themselves with their backs against the wall again.
A week after falling into a similar hole at the region tournament, the Soldotna volleyball squad split a pair of matches Thursday at the Class 4A state championships.
The Bartlett Bears overpowered the Stars in a three-set quarterfinal sweep at West High School, winning with scores of 25-17, 25-6 and 25-22.
In Class 3A action, Southcentral Conference runner-up Nikiski lost in four sets to Valdez on opening-day action. The Bulldogs will face Barrow today at 10 a.m. in a loser-out match.
Last week, Soldotna split a pair of games on the first day of the Northern Lights Conference tournament, leaving the Stars in the loser-out bracket. SoHi then won its next three games to advance to the tournament championship game, which it lost to Colony.
Now, with nothing to lose yet again, SoHi must find a way to stay alive.
“I like our chances,” said Soldotna head coach Sheila Kupferschmid. “Everyone’s goal is to get to Saturday, and that’s what we’d like to do.”
SoHi’s run through the loser-out bracket starts today with a 3:15 p.m. matchup against the winner of a loser-out matchup between West Valley and Colony. A SoHi win would propel the Stars to a 7 p.m. game, while a loss would end their season.
Against Bartlett, the newly crowned Cook Inlet Conference champions, SoHi was simply overpowered. Led by a fearsome foursome of Liu Pa’ia Togaga’e, Celeste Filoialii, Violett Togaga’e and Natasha Togaga’e, the Stars struggled to contain the Bears’ relentless attack.
“They’re stronger,” Kupferschmid said. “Their serving hurt us, and physically, they’re a lot stronger.”
Bartlett senior outside hitter Kendra Camell tops the height chart at 5-foot-11, but four of her Bears teammates stand at 5-9.
Combined with a hulking natural physique, the Bartlett front line is an imposing one. Kupferschmid was particularly impressed by the dominance of Liu Pa’ia Togaga’e, who rained kills down on the Stars in the last two sets.
“(Togaga’e) changed the game,” Kupferschmid said. “She got off her blocks and overpowered us. She’s a very good server and she ran the points.”
It led to a challenging outing for the SoHi defense, which was led by senior Shay Zener’s 10 digs, eight service points and five kills. Senior Ella Stenga chipped in nine digs, seven service points and three kills.
Kodi McGillivray added nine service points and five kills, Aliann Schmidt notched seven kills and two blocks and Cally Christianson pumped in eight serve points, 18 assists and two digs.
SoHi made things interesting from the beginning with a fast start. Schmidt and Bailey Leach dominated the Bartlett defense early with a series of kill points, helping the Stars grab a lead of 11-5 in the first set. SoHi pushed it to 15-11 before Bartlett began finding its way.
Kupferschmid said the prerogative from the outset was to force a game won on serves and serve receptions.
“We were hoping to keep it in the front court,” she said.
Once Togaga’e honed in her service game, SoHi began to struggle in handling the speed shots. Togaga’e had a pair of service aces that tied the game at 11-all.
Two straight points by Natasha Togaga’e spurred Bartlett on a 6-0 run that gave the Bears their first lead of the night at 16-15. Violett Togaga’e got in on the sister act with three straight points, two off stuff blocks.
SoHi led 4-3 in the second set before Bartlett closed out on a dominating 22-2 run. Kupferschmid said the second set was not SoHi’s best, but the Stars responded well in the third.
Three straight service points by Christianson put Soldotna up 6-2 in the third, but Bartlett had an answer from Togaga’e. After rallying to tie it at 11 apiece, the Bears took the lead on a series of service points from Violett Togaga’e.
Fittingly, it was a Togaga’e kill point that ended the match at 25-22.
Soldotna 3, Juneau 0
The Stars got Thursday off to a good start with a sweep of the Crimson Bears, winning with scores of 25-12, 25-20 and 25-16.
“Our serving was on,” Kupferschmid said. “(Juneau) could not receive us, and it was a good match to start with.”
Zener led the way with 17 service points, nine kills and nine digs. McGillivray had a big game with 15 service points, five blocks and thee kills, while Stenga added six kills and two blocks, Schmidt had 10 kills and five blocks and Christiansen had 13 service points, 27 assists and three digs.
Valdez 3, Nikiski 1
The Buccaneers made life hard on the Bulldogs Thursday morning with a four-set win, taking the match with scores of 25-14, 11-25, 25-13 and 25-12.
Although the Bulldogs will need to win out to have a shot at returning to the championship final, Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura believes the team can knock out the wins.
“As long as we focus on being positive,” Segura said. “The right attitude will help the team turn around.”
A return to the state title game will require three Friday wins by Nikiski and four overall in the tournament. The Bulldogs begin their run through the loser-out bracket with a 10 a.m. game against Barrow, and a win would advance them to a 1:30 p.m. match against a waiting Sitka.
A win there would push the Bulldogs to a 7 p.m. Friday night show, but it all starts with one game, Segura said.
“Someone’s got to work their way through,” she said. “I don’t see why it can’t be us.”
Valdez, the newly crowned Aurora Conference champions, roared out of the gates Thursday, beating Nikiski 3-1 before sweeping defending state champion Mt. Edgecumbe to reach the state semifinal against Grace Christian.
“Valdez is a good team,” Segura said. “I expected it to be tough, though. It’s a state tournament.”
Against the Buccaneers, Nikiski struggled in the blocking game. Segura pointed to the lack of solid blocks on the Valdez hitters, which led to the Bulldogs defense being forced to take on the load.
It kept junior libero Kelsey Clark busy with 22 digs while junior defensive specialist Elisa Fardin and senior outside hitter Melanie Sexton each had 16 digs. Sexton added nine kills as well.
“Our defense was working extra hard to keep up,” she said. “It made it so it didn’t feel like the right scores on the scoreboard. It seemed like it should’ve been closer.”
Junior outside Bethany Carstens notched 11 kills, senior opposite Jamie Yerkes added six kills, sophomore setter Kaitlyn Johnson had six kills to go with 18 assists, and junior setter Emma Wik forged a strong game with 15 assists.