That which nearly ruined the Nikiski volleyball team’s season only made the Bulldogs stronger.
Nikiski arrived at last weekend’s Southcentral Conference tournament in Cordova as the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division.
But the Bulldogs, winners of the 1992-93, 1994-95, 1998 and 2000 Class 3A state titles, also arrived with very little recent success in conference and state tournaments. Nikiski’s last trip to state had come in 2007.
So the Bulldogs struggled in pulling out a five-game victory over No. 4 seed Houston in the first round of the tournament, the persevered in topping Seward in five games to earn a state berth.
Nikiski then lost to Skyview for the tourney title.
“I think the tournament was a great experience,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura, who leads the Bulldogs to state in her first year at the helm. “We went to five games twice, and we were able to win both times.
“The girls almost missed out on a great opportunity, but they got that opportunity and they deserve that opportunity.”
That opportunity is a date with Mt. Edgecumbe at 10 a.m. today in the opening round of the Class 3A state tournament at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla.
Mt. Edgecumbe is the defending state champion, and the Braves were the runner-up in state the year before.
Nikiski did not play Mt. Edgecumbe this year, but Segura said she has a scouting report on the Braves and is setting up a defense based on that scouting report.
But just as important as what Mt. Edgecumbe does is what Nikiski does.
“We couldn’t have gotten where we are today without defense and mental toughness,” said senior libero Paris Davis. “Those are the two things that coach stresses.”
The Bulldogs showed mental toughness in pulling out the two five-setters at the conference tournament, but the team is in agreement that passing and defense could have been better.
Sophomore setter Rachel Thompson said the Houston game was a good game to get out of the system. The Bulldogs have worked on the weaknesses the Hawks exposed.
“We had a lot of iffy passes and out-of-the-system plays,” Thompson said. “I couldn’t use the middle or opposite hitters. I had to use the outside hitter.”
The Bulldogs have a potent mix of attacking options, and Thompson — “any coach’s dream,” according to Segura — sets the table for all of them.
But if Thompson doesn’t get a good pass to set, all that firepower stays dry.
“If we pass, we can beat anybody,” Thompson said. “It just makes the game a lot easier.”
The Bulldogs are confident they can pass better.
“We just have to get under the ball and move our feet better,” said junior outside hitter Rebekah Krogseng. “If we do that, I think we will do very well.”
Both Krogseng and Thompson also said energy is very important.
“We have to touch every ball, even if it hits the floor,” Thompson said.
Segura said Nikiski has very good form when it comes to passing. She said on-court communication also is vital to good passing.
And experience in pressure-packed championship situations does not hurt.
“It’s been a long time since Nikiski has had success at regions,” Segura said. “It helps to have been in the situation before.
“That’s why as a coach I want to have success at regions and state. Next year, the players will already have that experience.”
Segura also said Taylor Calderwood and Sienna Wallis will be important to success at state.
The coach said Calderwood is an all-around talent that always keeps a level head. Wallis is a middle hitter whose blocking is where all the defense starts.
“We should have no problems as long as we all work together,” Davis said.