The Soldotna Stars volleyball team lost 3-2 in heartbreaking fashion to South Anchorage on Thursday at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla. The loss marked the first day of the 2012 ASAA State Tournament.
The two teams traded the lead with each game, with game scores of 17-25, 25-21, 16-25, 25-16 and 13-15.
“We played outstanding defense in this match, and you have to play good defense to be the best,” Soldotna coach Bruce King said. “You also have to eliminate errors. In the first game, we looked a little shaky and we made a few errors, but every game we started picking it up.”
Soldotna senior Natalie Kress led her team with another impressive defensive display, racking up 44 digs. Heidi Westerman provided 27 assists, Kaillee Skjold had 21 kills and 15 blocks, Julie Litchfield picked up 13 digs, 10 assists and six kills, Kaitlynn Kerkvliet got 10 blocks (six stuff) and eight kills, and Kaycee Munn notched seven blocks (three stuff) and five kills.
Trailing 2-1, Soldotna put on a charge in Game 4 that was never challenged by South, beginning the game with a 10-1 lead, including powerful kills by Skjold, Munn and a serving ace by Kress.
After tying the match up, it all came down to the fifth and final winner-take-all game, and again, the Stars charged out to a 5-1 lead.
“Soldotna was outworking us, playing with more heart than we had right then,” South coach Judy Knecht said. “It’s everyone’s dream to make it to the state tournament and nobody’s going to give it to you. They have not won, so they wanted that more than we did. We got to figure out how bad we want it.”
South put up a quick six points to take a brief lead, but Soldotna answered back. South’s Mikayla Sweet and Lauren Hoffman continued to pummel Soldotna with kills, and were answered with strikes from Skjold, Litchfield and Makayla Wong.
“I think that’s when our passing and defense really started to click and come together,” King said. “We expected to do well against this team, this isn’t a surprise for us and I don’t think these girls came into this with any better expectations.”
Soldotna was leading 13-12, putting the Stars only two points away from getting to the next round, but South ousted them with the game-winner coming from Sweet.
“It came down to the fact that we made a few less errors than they did in that last game,” Knecht said.
King said that while there may be tears for now, he has the utmost confidence that SoHi will return.
“We’re unhappy with the result, but we’re not unhappy with the way we played,” King said. “We have all the confidence that we’re going to be back playing this team on Saturday.”
Soldotna’s loss means the team is relegated to the secondary “losers” bracket, and will play West Valley today at 11 a.m. The Fairbanks team lost 3-1 to East earlier in the day.
SoHi still holds a slim chance of making it back to the state championship picture, but in order to do so, will have to win every game the Stars play, including two games Saturday before a potential title run.
“I think when they have a chance to look back at how they played, they’ll be prepared to move forward starting tomorrow,” King said. “It’s a loss, but it’s a double-elimination tournament, so anyone can climb back into it.”
South was led by Morgan Wuthrich with 57 assists. Sweet had 21 kills, Holly Morehouse put up 15 kills, and Shelby Little had 10 kills and seven blocks.