The Soldotna volleyball team advanced to the Class 4A state volleyball tournament with a sweep of Colony on Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament in Kodiak.
The Stars, the No. 2 seed, received a first-round bye in the tourney. That meant all they had to do was win their first game to earn a state berth.
SoHi cruised past Colony 25-18, 25-15 and 25-15 for its first state berth since 2009.
The Stars now face tournament hosts Kodiak for a spot in the championship match today at 5 p.m. The Bears, the No. 4 seed, opened the tourney by topping No. 5 Wasilla 25-14, 25-11 and 25-9. Kodiak then upset No. 1 Palmer 25-17, 21-25, 25-22 and 25-22.
Soldotna defeated the Bears twice early in the season in Kodiak.
The championship is at 2 p.m. Saturday. Since the tournament is double elimination, the winner of the semifinal would have another chance in a 4 p.m. if-necessary game if they lost.
“Kodiak is playing well,” SoHi coach Bruce King said. “When it got tight at the end of games, Kodiak made more plays than Palmer.
“That’s not something we’re used to seeing.”
King said going into the tournament that if his team could pass and play defense, it would put his offense in a position to take over.
He said the passing and defense was excellent, led by the 17 digs of Natalie Kress.
“She just passed everything tonight,” King said. “It was one of her best performances of the season.”
Also for SoHi, Kaycee Munn had 13 digs, while Emily Schneider and Julie Litchfield each had eight.
King said Munn made some great digs on Colony middle hitter Allison Leigh.
“We focused in practice on how to handle her,” King said. “We knew she would get her kills, but we wanted her to have minimum impact on the game.”
King said the Stars put a triple block on Leigh. He said many teams single-block her and try to dig around that, but King said the triple block worked well Thursday.
In the blocking department, Katelynn Kerkvliet had 13 blocks (two stuff), Kaillee Skjold had eight blocks (three stuff), Munn had six blocks (two stuff) and Heidi Westerman had six blocks (one stuff).
Skjold added 17 kills and two aces, while Kerkvliet had 13 kills and Munn had six kills. Westerman had 24 assists, while Litchfield had 13.
King said Kodiak enjoyed the support of a loud crowd Thursday. He’s looking forward to more of the same today.
“I just think we have a great time when we play in front of a big crowd,” he said.
King also credited assistant Heath McLeod with directing SoHi’s serving attack, which kept the Knights on their heels.
Colony 3, Kenai 0
Leigh powered through a match-high 18 kills and five blocks to help No. 3 Colony sweep No. 6 Kenai 25-7, 25-8, 25-13 in an opening-round match.
Brooke Nezaticky added six kills, while Maryann Zmuda dished out 18 assists.
Kenai, winless on the season in conference, drops to a loser-out match today at 11 a.m. vs. No. 1 seed Palmer.
Kodiak 3, Wasilla 0
Kodiak used a balanced offensive attack to easily dispose of Wasilla 25-14, 25-11, 25-9 in the first match of the tournament.
Four Bears notched at least three kills, led by junior Hannah Wandersee with five. Wandersee added five aces and one solo block.
Megan Pyles had four kills and two blocks, while Carissa Cannon had three kills and 14 digs.
Wasilla was led by Machia Toews’ five kills and 14 digs, while Cassidy Edwards chipped in five kills and Amber Sizemore four kills.
Wasilla never led in the match that was over in less than an hour. Warriors coach Claudia Farias Pinard said the team’s struggles were all mental and hopes the team can turn things around.
“The tournament is not over,” she said.
Wasilla plays in a loser-out match today at 1 p.m. against Colony.
In the opening minutes, Wasilla hung tough and only trailed 12-10.
After that, it was all Kodiak, as the Bears proceeded to outscore the visitors 63-24 to advance in the winners’ bracket.
The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman and Kodiak Daily Mirror contributed to this report.