Defending their home turf in their opening Southcentral Conference volleyball game of the season began easily enough for the Nikiski Bulldogs on Thursday night.
Then, the wheels fell off.
Nikiski let a four-point lead slip away in the late stages of Game 1 en route to a three-game sweep at Nikiski High School, losing to the Grizzlies with scores of 25-20, 25-5 and 25-15.
An offensive surge midway through the first game left Nikiski with a 17-13 lead, but six unanswered points from Grace put the visitors ahead for good and the Grizzlies never let up, punishing the mistake-prone Bulldogs in the final two games.
“I don’t think that has happened that much ever, since I’ve coached,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura. “I guess there’s a first for everything.”
Segura expressed frustration about the multiple dropped balls and missed opportunities that plagued the Bulldogs in the final two games. Nikiski began the second game with consecutive points given up on balls that simply dropped to the floor due to miscommunication.
“I was really trying to rack my brain trying to figure out what happened after that first game,” Segura said. “There shouldn’t have been anything holding the girls back from coming back.”
Nikiski dropped to 0-2 overall outside of tournament play with the loss, while Grace improved to 1-1 in the Southcentral Conference.
Following a third dropped ball that came down after bouncing through the ceiling rafters, Nikiski gave up 11 of the next 12 points to Grace, which found additional points from senior middle Hayley Hagen and junior setter Kaitlin Cowell. Both girls provided more than enough blocking and setup points to power Grace along. Hagen ended with seven kills, while Cowell provided 21 assists.
Annie Vanderweide also got in on the action with a strong service game. Vanderweide ended the night with seven kills and five digs.
“We had solid passing and serves helped that out a lot,” said Grace assistant coach Kari Frantz. “We did a good job setting it up and using all three of our hitters.”
Senior outside hitter Brittany Perry led the Nikiski offense with six kills, while junior middle Ayla Pitt had five kills and three blocks. Senior Lauren O’Brien provided 12 digs, senior Zykiah Cooney had 10 digs and Emily Hensley notched six assists.
Perry and Pitt combined to become an effective blocking duo in the first game, helping knock down balls up front at the net, which troubled Grace.
However, Grace pushed back with its service game and eventually took the set, ending on a 12-3 finishing kick.
“Once they lost the first point, momentum started to turn and everyone else just went down the hill with it.” Segura said. “It’s like we were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win.”
In the second game, Grace held leads of 15-2 and 18-3 on the way to a blowout win.
The third game saw more of the same, as Nikiski’s early 2-0 lead didn’t last long. Senior libero Bridget Broderick served away several points that Nikiski fumbled with to push Grace’s lead to 10-4.
“In practice we push the mindset of breaking it down,” Frantz said. “We like to break it down to games of five (points), and we made it work tonight.”
Nikiski will host Houston today at 5 p.m.
Kodiak 3, Kenai 1
Kenai opened its Northern Lights Conference slate with a loss to Kodiak, losing with game scores of 26-24, 25-16, 17-25 and 25-15.
Even with the loss, however, Kenai coach Tracie Beck said she felt the match was a step in the right direction for the Kardinals.
“Every game we play against conference teams is big,” Beck said. “We hadn’t seen Kodiak yet this year, so that first game is always about figuring each other out and finding weaknesses.”
Abby Beck led the Kenai offense with 10 kills, 22 digs and four aces, while fellow senior Alli Steinbeck provided 21 assists. Cori Holmes notched 19 digs, Alexis Baker had 17 digs and six kills, and Emily Koziczkowski added four stuff blocks.
Kenai pulled ahead in the first game, but Kodiak rallied to take the slim win and a 1-0 lead. From there, Beck said her team seemed to stumble from the early loss, although a strong Game 3 prolonged the match.
“I think the girls felt like the game was on the line, and they stepped up (in Game 3),” she said.
Kenai is 1-1 overall outside of tournament play.
ACS 3, Homer 1
The Lions held off the Mariners to gain a Southcentral Conference victory Thursday night in Homer, winning with scores of 25-21, 25-16, 19-25 and 25-19.