PALMER — When Soldotna started its three-match tour of the Matanuska-Susitna valleys Thursday night at Palmer High School, Stars head coach Bruce King said SoHi middle hitter Katelynn Kerkvliet was fighting back pains that made it difficult for her to even move around on the floor.
But when the Stars faced Colony and one of the Northern Lights Conference’s top middle hitters, Knights senior Allison Leigh, on Saturday, Kerkvliet stepped up when the Stars needed her the most.
Kerkvliet collected 15 kills and 12 blocks to lead Soldotna to a 3-1 (25-16, 16-25, 25-14, 25-18) win over the Knights at Colony High School on Saturday afternoon.
“(The back) was bothering her on Thursday. She was in pain, and we have been treating it. She had a monster match (today), probably the best match she’s had all season,” King said after the win.
Kerkvliet and Kaillee Skjold combined for 26 kills in the win to help Soldotna improve to 10-2 overall and 8-1 in NLC play. Kaycee Munn had 11 blocks and Kailee Skjold added eight as Soldotna battled the Leigh-led Colony attack.
“It was extremely important,” King said of Kerkvliet’s performance. “We went with a hobbled together lineup today. We needed our regulars to step up and play tough.”
Soldotna, playing its third NLC match in as many days, needed a few different players to help earn the win. Alex Ashe, typically Soldotna’s junior varsity libero, stepped into the varsity lineup, and came through
with 25 digs for the Stars.
“I give her a lot of credit,” King said. “Our substitute libero came up from J.V. and did a great job.”
Leigh led the Knights with 22 kills, seven digs, five blocks and two aces in the loss.
“We know she’s always going to be tough,” King said of the Colony senior. “We know she’s always going to get kills against us. We focus all of our attention on her when she’s in the front row. The goal is to keep her in the back row as much as we can. She’s an outstanding player.”
Leigh sparked the Knights in Colony’s 25-16 win during Game 2. Four of Colony’s first five points of the second set came via the Leigh kill. She also used back-to-back kills late in the game to give the Knights the
But Leigh was not the only player to come through for the Knights. Brooke Nezaticky posted a pair of kills during a key four-point run in the second game. Ashley Turcotte and Zoe Headley helped Colony extend its lead to 21-14 in the second game.
“We’ve had all my other hitters really step up,” Colony head coach Amy Carter said. “One of the focuses is being more aggressive and hitting the ball.”
Brooke Deans added six kills in the loss, while Turcotte and Nezaticky finished with five and four respectively. Deans and Maryann Zmuda led the Knights with 12 digs each.
Overall, despite the loss, Carter was impressed with how the Knights played against the Stars, the top team in the NLC.
“I thought my girls played significantly better than the way we played them on the Peninsula a few weeks ago,” Carter said. “I felt like we were in every game. I thought my girls played better, and way more aggressive.”
With wins against Palmer, Wasilla and Colony on consecutive days, Soldotna moved within reach of clinching the top seed in the 2012 NLC
Championships. Soldotna (8-1 in NLC play) can clinch the top seed with a win over Kenai or one more Palmer loss.
“It’s a rare event any Peninsula team comes up and sweeps the Valley,” King said. “It’s a huge weekend for us. It gives us the No. 1 seed, assuming we don’t stumble against Kenai in our last match.”
Colony is now 3-3 in NLC play. The Knights host Palmer Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Julie Litchfield had 16 digs for the Stars, while Emily Schneider had 15 and Makayla Wong had 13. Skjold and Wong each had two aces, while Litchfield had 30 assists, Skjold had 11 kills and Munn had seven kills.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman sports editor Jeremiah Bartz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him @matsu_sports and find him by searching Valley Sports Huddle on Facebook.