The Skyview and Nikiski volleyball teams battled all of last season in the Southcentral Conference, with the Bulldogs getting the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division in the regular season, but Skyview defeating Nikiski for the conference tournament championship.
In Tuesday’s early season conference matchup at Skyview, it was not hard to see which team lost four starters and six players overall from last season, and which team lost two starters.
The Panthers celebrated homecoming week by rolling past the Bulldogs 25-10, 25-14 and 25-12 and improving to 1-0 in the league and overall. Nikiski fell to 0-2 overall and 0-1 in the league.
“It was pretty much experience,” said Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid. “We have four seniors that played on a region championship and a team that finished fourth in the state.
“They were the difference makers in this match.”
Those four seniors are Sam Reynolds, Cheyanne Laber, Casey Neill and Cat Schoessler.
Reynolds had a monster match, tallying 10 kills and 10 aces.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” she said. “I’ve played varsity for three years. I know my teammates well and we have good chemistry.”
With her 10 aces, Reynolds was the leading force in a dominant performance by Skyview in the service game. She served out the final 11 points of the first game.
“That little jump serve she developed in the offseason is going to be very effective for us,” Kupferschmid said.
Laber added nine kills for the Panthers.
“She continues to get better,” Kupferschmid said. “She’s trying to develop into an all-around volleyball player.”
Cat Schoessler had eight kills, while Neill had two kills and four assists, playing libero for two of the three games.
“She’s everything a libero should be,” Kupferschmid said. “She has a fantastic serve, and what a competitor.”
The strong play of the experienced seniors early in the season is no surprise. What has to make opponents shudder is how quickly the one big change Kupferschmid made to the team is working out.
The setter is the quarterback of the team, and Kupferschmid had a good one returning in Hayley Ramsell. Yet when Ramsell grew 3 inches, the coach installed Emily DiPaulo at setter and moved Ramsell to opposite hitter, allowing her to use her attacking skills.
DiPaulo ran the offense well, getting four players at least five kills with her 18 assists.
“She’s got agility and athleticism,” Kupferschmid said of DiPaulo. “She needs to work on volleyball skills, but with repetition and practice, she should turn into a fine setter.”
With five kills and four assists, Ramsell showed she is quickly taking to the new role.
“She’s got a fast swing and a good jump,” Kupferschmid said. “She’s got the ability to turn herself into a very good volleyball player.”
In addition to the service game, Skyview’s experience showed up in points that went longer than a few trips across the net and forced players to scramble. During these confusing times, experienced players stay in position and inexperienced players tend to leave gaps that are exploited.
“We did a lot better than we did against Soldotna with that unexpected stuff, but we still have to be quicker to pick up on it,” Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said.
The Bulldogs actually got off to a solid start, taking a 5-2 lead in the first game. Jodi Cook had two kills during the run, while Katie Costello also added a kill. Cook finished with six kills and four blocks, while Costello had 32 digs.
“We have to get to the point where we can play 25 points instead of six,” Segura said.
Rachel Thompson had 26 assists and three blocks, while Ayla Pitt had three kills and a block and Lauren O’Brien had two service aces.
“Our team will get better with experience,” Segura said. “They just have to make sure they use each game to get better.
“I think this team has a lot of potential this season and in years to come.”
The nonconference match between Kenai and host Homer that was scheduled for Tuesday was postponed. Both teams were at a tournament in Cordova last weekend, and Kenai athletic director Stacia Rustad wrote in an email that travel delays from Cordova forced the postponement of the match.