Volleyball: Kenai sweeps Nikiski

The Nikiski and Kenai Central volleyball teams tuned up for a big weekend of conference matches with a nonconference tilt Tuesday at Nikiski High School.

The Kardinals notched a 25-18, 25-12 and 25-19 victory that left both squads feeling good as they head on the road.

Kenai, now 6-4 in nontournament play, takes its 2-4 Northern Lights Conference record to play Palmer on Thursday, Colony on Friday and Wasilla on Saturday.

“When we played those teams at home, we won two of three and it was a big confidence boost,” said Kenai senior setter Alli Steinbeck, who had 21 assists. “We hope to come home with three wins.”

Nikiski, 3-5 in nontournament play, takes a 3-3 record in Southcentral Conference play to Anchorage Christian Schools on Thursday, Grace Christian on Friday and Houston on Saturday.

After a four-game loss to Soldotna on Friday, the Kardinals came into Tuesday’s match looking to receive serve better.

“We wanted to stay determined on every point and not let any of their servers roll on us,” Steinbeck said.

For the most part, the Kards were able to accomplish that, with the exceptions being a run of five points by Melanie Sexton, who had three aces in the match, in the first game and a run of five by Brianna Vollertson, who had six kills, in the third game.

“I feel like our serve-receive is in good shape, but it’s still going to be hard playing four matches in six days,” Kenai coach Tracie Beck said.

A week before the Kenai match, Nikiski lost a conference match at Seward. Bulldogs coach Stacey Segura said her program rebounded this past weekend at the Grizzly Invitational.

“That was probably the most consistent, happy and fun they’ve played all year,” Segura said of the tourney, where the varsity finished tied for ninth. “Both the JV and varsity got a lot better.”

The coach said that trend continued Tuesday, with the difference in the match being Kenai’s serve.

“Kenai and Soldotna have some of the best servers in the state and serve-receive is our weakest spot,” Segura said. “It shows when we play the 4A schools.”

In the first game, Nikiski led 12-11 after Sexton’s service run, but Steinbeck had four points for a 17-13 game, then Abby Beck, who had 13 kills, three blocks and three aces, closed with six straight jump serves.

Beck took over the match at times, but Segura was happy with the way the defense, led by the 12 digs of Lauren O’Brien, held up against the powerful junior.

“We dug her a lot better than we have in the past,” Segura said.

In the second game, Cierra King, who had three aces in the match, provided the difference with a run of seven service points for a 17-8 lead.

“She had that great run at the service line, and when the ball was set to her well, she took care of business,” coach Beck said.

The Kards had a 20-10 lead in Game 3, but things got interesting thanks to Vollertson, who made it 20-16.

Vollertson has a unique approach to the serve, using two hands to toss the ball in the air, but when she gets rolling, it’s apparent that opponents have hard time reading her ball.

“I’ve tried to change her serve since freshman year,” Segura said. “She doesn’t like change.”

King had a stuff block to finally end Vollertson’s run, and the Kards were able to close the match from there.

Cori Holmes had 22 digs for the Kards, while Alexis Baker had 18 digs and two aces. Emily Koziczkowski added three kills, while Caleigh Jensen had a pair of aces.

Segura said she has been emphasizing that teammates must hold each other accountable, and it’s working.

“We’re trying to eliminate the silly mistakes,” Segura said. “Then it’s not as costly when we make hitting mistakes.”

Emily Hensley had 10 assists for the Bulldogs, while Ayla Pitt had four kills and Maddy Williams had two blocks.

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