In order to top Nikiski in a nonconference volleyball match Tuesday, host Soldotna took it outside.
Outside hitters Judah Aley, a junior, and Sylvia Tuisaula, a senior, led the Stars to a 25-14, 26-28, 25-10 and 25-19 victory over the Bulldogs.
Both squads head to the Dimond-Service Invitational in Anchorage this weekend, with SoHi toting a 13-4 record and Nikiski arriving at 4-7.
Soldotna coach Sheila Kupferschmid opens up the gym an hour before practice for players wanting extra work, and the coach said Aley and Tuisaula have been two of the most willing to take that option.
“I’m going into practice early and getting a lot of good reps and practice hitting,” Aley said. “My improvement in my hitting is all due to coach.”
Kupferschmid said she emphasizes getting on top of the ball, then snapping through it to impart heavy topspin. This keeps the ball from going long.
Aley did just that Tuesday in amassing 13 kills, 11 other hits and 12 points on her serve. Tuisaula had six kills, 11 hits, eight points on her serve and two blocks.
“I think I have two very good outside hitters,” Kupferschmid said. “They are very effective and good athletes.
“You want outside hitters that can put the ball away and they can do that.”
Kupferschmid said outside hitters also need middle hitters that can draw blocking attention, and Makenna Rosin and Drewe Zeek fit that bill Tuesday. Rosin had two kills, seven other hits, eight points on serve and six blocks. Zeek had eight hits and three blocks.
Everything was clicking for Soldotna in Game 1 as the Stars took a 25-14 victory. It looked like this match would be a reprise of a late September contest, when SoHi beat Nikiski 25-14, 25-17 and 25-15.
But late in the match, Nikiski coach Stacey Segura called timeout and turned the match around.
“I told them they had to start hitting,” Segura said. “I didn’t care if it went into the net or went into the back wall, they just had to start hitting.”
Segura said the Stars have a fast, hard offense that is used to getting free balls, which are quickly turned into kills.
“We had to make them start playing defense,” Segura said.
It worked. The Bulldogs closed the first game strong and then fought off a game point in Game 2. With Nikiski leading 27-26, a long point ensued with both squads scrambling on defense. Brianna Vollertsen, who had two blocks in the match, closed the game with a crafty kill.
Segura said that after the timeout in the first game, the Bulldogs played some of their best volleyball of the season.
“I didn’t expect to beat Soldotna tonight,” Segura said. “I’m very happy they played together and pulled out the second game.”
Kupferschmid said her squad was not intense enough in the second game and gave up too many free balls, but added that Nikiski’s improved play had a lot to do with the loss.
The SoHi coach said the intensity picked back up when she reminded her varsity players that the junior varsity is 15-2 and the C-team is 16-1, and there is always competition for spots on the floor. The 25-10 and 25-19 victories followed.
For SoHi, Lindsey Wong had 15 points on her serve, while Kearstin Yarnes had two kills and six points, and Shaylynn Zener added six points.
For Nikiski, Ayla Pitt did a great job jousting with SoHi’s tough middle hitters. She finished with six kills, two blocks and two aces. Also, Brittany Perry had five kills, Emily Hensley had a block, Lauren O’Brien had 20 digs and Melanie Sexton had 10 digs.
“It was a fun match tonight,” Segura said. “We’ve been playing so much — traveling and getting sick. Tonight, I wanted them to really remember why they’re out there — playing volleyball, having fun and being with each other.
“I don’t think my team looked stressed tonight at all.”