PALMER — As the Palmer Moose tried to dig themselves out of a deep hole, a big Soldotna dig may have saved a pivotal match for the Stars.
Palmer outside hitter Mariah McNamara rifled an attack along the left sideline, but Soldotna libero Natalie Kress went strong to the floor to keep the ball in play. The ball left the fists of Kress and cleared the net, falling amid a triangle of stunned Palmer players. The play represented a single point on the scoreboard, but at this point of the decisive fourth game, Kress was able to help SoHi stand tall against the charging Moose, and hold on for a 3-1 (25-13, 17-25, 25-13, 25-17) win at Palmer High School on Thursday night.
“That was a match-changer right there,” Soldotna head coach Bruce King said after the victory.
Kress collected an impressive 47 digs in a key Northern Lights Conference win for the Stars, a victory that moved SoHi into a first-place tie with Palmer in the NLC standings.
The first meeting of the season between the conference rivals, a 3-2 Palmer win at Soldotna last month, was pushed to five games. Despite falling behind early in the match and early in Game 4, the Moose tried to rally late and possibly set up another five-set match.
Soldotna, which used early runs to win Games 1 and 3, opened the fourth game with five straight points, and used a Kaycee Munn tip to take a 7-2 lead. The Stars led by as many as nine points in the fourth game, but that was before a Palmer rally.
Led by the hitting of McNamara and the blocking of middle hitter Kalei DePriest, Palmer scored eight straight points to cut Soldotna’s 16-7 advantage to a slim 16-15 lead. But just as the Moose were pulling close, Kress sparked the Stars, who iced the match with another nine-point run.
“It was a nice run, but it’s no way to play games, where you’re needing 10 points to get yourself back into a game or get yourself ahead,” Palmer head coach Steve Reynolds said.
The match featured a number of runs by both teams. Soldotna led 23-10 at one point in Game 1. Palmer built a 17-10 lead in Game 2. The Stars opened Game 3 with a 5-1 advantage.
“It was an interesting game as far as momentum,” Reynolds said. “Both teams were going on big scoring runs, both teams were allowing big runs of points. The other team would fight back a little bit, but was too little, too late.”
King said he saw parallels during each team’s big runs.
“It was all keyed on both sides of the net by passing,” King said. “The team that controlled the other team’s serve is the one that won.”
Kaillee Skjold enjoyed a big night in the middle with 14 kills and 17 blocks. Eleven of Skjold’s 17 blocks were a stuff block. Munn recorded 18 digs and eight kills for SoHi, and Heidi Westerman and Julie Litchfield combined for 48 assists.
Elliot Perkins led the Moose with 14 kills in the match. McNamara posted a team-high 13 kills. DePriest had five blocks, and setter Macey Buresh led the Moose with 27 assists.
Soldotna continues its stay in the Valley, facing Wasilla tonight at 6:30 p.m. at WHS. Colony hosts the Stars Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Palmer hosts Kenai tonight at 6:30 p.m. at PHS.
Colony netters sweep Kenai Central
PALMER — Kenai had no answer for Colony heavy hitter Allison Leigh as the senior posted 18 kills to lead the Knights to a three-game sweep (25-17, 25-9, 25-15) of the Kardinals at Colony High School in Northern Lights Conference action.
Leigh finished with 18 kills and two blocks in the match, and was helped on the front line by Ashley Turcotte’s five kills.
Defensively, the Knights were able to handle most of what the Kardinals could dish out on offense, combining for 29 digs in the match, led by Chelsea Friesen’s seven. Mackenzie Everett added six digs, and Brooke Evans and Mayrann Zmuda each contributed five.
Zmuda, the team’s setter, led the Knights with 17 assists.