For one game Tuesday, Kenai did everything right and had things in control and on pace to beat Nikiski.
But the Bulldogs pulled out all the stops in their service game, propelling them to a 3-1 win in a nonconference clash over the Kardinals at Nikiski High School. Nikiski lost the first game 25-14, but rallied back to win three games with scores of 25-15, 26-24 and 25-18.
“Our serving is way better than what it ever has been,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura. “I allow them to miss two serves per game, so if it goes to four games they’re allowed eight.”
On Tuesday night, Nikiski only missed six serves.
“We’ve been working on our confidence, and I don’t think that just because we lost the first game these girls got down on themselves,” Segura said. “They were able to come back, and I’m pretty proud of them.”
The win improved Nikiski’s record to 2-4 overall, while the loss drops Kenai to 0-7 overall.
In the first game, Kenai ballooned its lead rather quickly to a 15-8 advantage before Segura was forced to call a timeout. The early scoring was set in motion with an attack from junior setter Kiana Harding, freshman Abby Beck and senior Justice English. Harding had six kills and three stuff blocks and Beck had seven kills and four aces, while English provided 15 digs. Heidi Perkins also had 15 digs, and Kyla Whannell hit four aces.
“We came in with a game plan and they executed it perfectly,” said Kenai coach Tracie Beck. “Serving to particular areas, knowing where to place the ball, placing it strategically, being deliberate with our deliveries, and being a younger team that’s really what we’ve been working on.
“I threw some other kids in because I want everybody to have experience on the court, and just that can throw them off and it shakes their confidence.”
The second game featured a much tighter contest in the early going, with both sides unable to string together more than three points at a time.
Finally, Nikiski got into a groove and blasted out seven consecutive points with Katie Costello serving. The game ended with Nikiski outscoring Kenai 17-5, as senior middle hitter Jodi Cook began to catch fire with a flurry of power hits. Cook racked up 15 kills overall, while senior teammate Rebekah Krogseng tallied 10.
“I think the difference is that last year, when we got in a lull like that, we couldn’t pick ourselves back up,” Krogseng said. “So having three seniors from last year and Rachel (Thompson) and Laura (Hufford), we’ve experienced that so we know how to pick ourselves out of that. It really helps the newbies because I can really feel them get disappointed and it’s like, no it’s OK, we will get out of this.”
Junior libero Hufford provided defense with 33 digs, and setter Thompson led the team with 50 assists.
“We were a little slow in the first game, but my defense picked up tremendously in the last three games,” Segura said. “Not so much in the last few points in the last game. That was a little scary, I think my girls got a little excited about winning and saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and couldn’t get it together. They said if we weren’t so far ahead, we probably wouldn’t have won that game.”
Nikiski started the third game by building a quick 9-2 lead, then had to fend off a late attack from Kenai to win with extra points. With blocking from Dacia Shier and Harding, the Kards twice held Nikiski from game point.
Once again, in the third game, Nikiski built an early lead by forcing Kenai into mistakes that left the Bulldogs with a 19-7 lead halfway through. Once Nikiski reached its 22nd point, Kenai began to mount a comeback, but with crucial kills from Cook and and tips from Krogseng, the Dogs held their ground and won.