All the energy and emotion that goes into senior night can cause problems for many teams.
Not the Soldotna volleyball team.
The Stars swept Skyview 25-20, 25-19 and 25-17 on Tuesday in nonconference action. SoHi moved its record to 11-2 overall, while the Panthers fall to 8-4.
While energy, emotion and just playing for the fun of it can be detrimental to some teams, the Stars are finding that the more energy, emotion and fun, the better.
SoHi co-captain Heidi Westerman, who was honored along with seniors Emily Schneider, Kaycee Munn, Natalie Kress and Kaillee Skjold, said the senior night emotions were so heartfelt, the seniors were not sure if they were going to cry during warmups.
Needless to say, this left them a little unsure about how they would perform come game time.
“We came out just right,” said Westerman, who had 20 assists. “We were pumped up and we had good intensity. Sometimes those things can be an issue on senior night.”
The Stars were coming off a victory in the consolation bracket of the gold bracket at the Dimond-Service tournament. It was a solid finish at such a big tournament, but the team felt it could have done better.
“Something was weird that entire tournament,” said Munn, also a co-captain, who had eight digs, six blocks (two stuff), four aces and five kills on Tuesday. “It seemed like we didn’t enjoy playing.
“We’ve realized that when we have fun playing, talk a lot and play with a lot of emotion, that’s when we play our best.”
Skyview found that out firsthand, getting swept even though coach Sheila Kupferschmid did not have a problem with the way her team played.
“I think my kids played hard and they played very well,” Kupferschmid said. “We played a very good Soldotna team.”
The Stars jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the first game when Casey Neill ripped off five service points, but SoHi came from behind to tie the game at 15 and then came from behind again to tie the game at 20.
“This team does not panic when they get behind,” Soldotna coach Bruce King said.
With the game tied at 20, Julie Litchfield, who had 18 assists, served out the last five points of the game.
SoHi carried that momentum into the second game, jumping to a 7-2 lead behind four straight service points from Litchfield.
“Momentum shifts can happen in volleyball at any point,” Munn said. “One of the things we’ve been working on is keeping our momentum going into a new game.”
In the second game, Skyview would cut SoHi’s lead to 19-17 on a service winner by Sam Reynolds, but Skjold, who had 13 kills, 12 blocks (two stuff) and three aces, got the serve back with a kill, and then served out two points to re-establish control.
“The difference was their block and their athletic ability,” Kupferschmid said. “They were able to dig a lot of balls up.”
Both Westerman and Munn agreed that defense and passing is the key for the Stars, who have a lot of offensive firepower.
“When we pass well, good things happen,” Westerman said. “It all starts with passing.”
The third game was knotted at 12 when Natalie Kress, who had 13 digs and three aces, served out six straight points for an 18-12 lead. Skyview would get no closer than five points the rest of the way.
With three more matches left this week, including a newly added match against Ketchikan on Friday at Soldotna Middle School at 6 p.m., King said the Stars have a chance to build momentum heading into the conference tournament.
“This team has the ability to take over matches by themselves,” King said. “They don’t need a lot of guidance from the coaching staff.
“One of the things we’re doing right now is asking them to take responsibility for the program.”
King said Schneider, who had 19 digs, and Kress had a great night on defense, while Munn did a great all-around job. Katelynn Kerkvliet added six blocks (two stuff) for Soldotna.
The Panthers have their own senior night Thursday at 6 p.m. against Homer. The match is Skyview’s last of the regular season, and will be pivotal as the Panthers battle for the Southcentral Conference Southern Division top seed with Nikiski.
Kupferschmid said playing in the Dimond-Service tournament, then taking on SoHi, has helped her team improve by a lot heading into a crucial stretch of the season.
She said Neill hustled well Tuesday, while underclassmen Sam Reynolds (two kills, five service points) and Hayley Ramsell (three kills, six points, two blocks) continue to improve.
Marlee Cunningham had seven kills and three blocks for Skyview, while Cheyanne Laber had six kills, and Holly Ramsell had four kills and 10 points.