Nikiski started Thursday night going shot for shot with the Palmer volleyball team, but ultimately dropped a 3-1 match to the Moose, losing with game scores of 26-24, 17-25, 25-8 and 25-13 in a nonconference meeting.
The loss drops Nikiski to 3-6 overall this year, while Palmer improves on its spotless record by moving to 8-0.
“We’ve been really focusing on encouraging each other and having confidence in ourselves, because the last two games we’ve been lacking it,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura. “I said no matter what the score is, you guys need to be there for each other.
“I think they got too excited and let it go.”
The Bulldogs kept Game 1 close, getting big kills from middle hitter Jodi Cook and outside hitter Katie Costello, and managed to rally from two points down late in the game to take match point at 24-21, forcing Palmer coach Steve Reynolds to call a timeout.
Whatever Reynolds told his team apparently worked, as Palmer charged back with five straight points to take a 26-24 win, leaving the Bulldogs with a missed opportunity.
“I’m not disappointed in that game because we moved forward as a program, mentally,” Segura said. “The second game was awesome.”
Nikiski used a strong defensive effort in the second game to tally eight straight points midway through the game and take the lead, which the Bulldogs never relinquished.
“The Nikiski players were great,” Reynolds said. “Their setter (Rachel Thompson) was playing really well, and some of the time, I was telling them to do more of what they’re doing.”
Thompson had 17 assists to lead Nikiski. Libero Laura Hufford had 21 digs and three aces, outside hitter Rebekah Krogseng had seven kills and Cook had five kills.
With the match tied up at one game apiece, Palmer began to really strut its stuff, using a strong service game to stifle the Nikiski defensive effort, at one point holding a 23-5 lead. Cassidy Giese blasted many of those serving aces.
“When your serve is working, you can just kind of throttle some points out,” Reynolds said.
Brecken Riekena led Palmer with 14 kills, while teammate Macey Buresh had 30 assists and seven aces, and libero Giese provided 11 digs.
“The third game, I don’t know where it came from,” Segura said. “Our passing was really good, but we hit like 20 points into the net.”
Segura said her team played phenomenal defense, which kept Nikiski in the game early on, but conceded the fact that Palmer is a large school with a strong volleyball program.
“We were playing really fundamental, but we were playing really scrappy too,” Segura said. “Usually it’s one or the other, but we were doing both.”
Colony 3, Kenai Central 2
The visiting Knights pulled through for a Northern Lights Conference victory Thursday.
The Kards (0-5 NLC, 1-7 overall) lost 25-21, 20-25, 20-25, 25-23 and 15-9.
Despite the loss, Kardinals coach Tracie Beck saw many positive signs after a loss to Skyview on Tuesday.
“I felt like we made a step forward tonight, especially since our Tuesday game was just horrible,” Beck said. “We had a great practice Wednesday, then we showed up determined to win.
“Even though in the end we came up short, I can live with that.”
The coach said her team had reasons to fold early. The Kards lost the first game, then lost Kyla Whannell to a head injury in the second game when she was struck by a ball. Beck said she visited Whannell in the hospital later Thursday and said she was doing well, but she could be out for a while with a concussion.
“It was the best five games we’ve put together,” Beck said. “I felt like we had chances to win.”
Beck said it’s the first time the Kards have gone to five games with a Valley squad in recent memory.
Kiana Harding had five aces and 13 kills, while Abby Beck had three aces and six kills. Dacia Shier added six kills, while Heidi Perkins had 31 digs.
Kenai hosts Wasilla at 5:30 p.m. today and Palmer at noon Saturday.
Soldotna 3, Colony 0
The host Soldotna volleyball team swept Colony in three games in Northern Lights Conference action Wednesday.
“It’s starting to come along,” Soldotna coach Emily Kenagy said after her team moved to 3-4 in the conference. “We’re excited about that.”
Kenagy said Katelynn Kerkvliet and Makayla Wong had a bunch of kills to lead the Stars.
The coach also said the offense ran smoothly because the passers were able to get the ball to setter Julie Litchfield.
“Julie does a great job,” Kenagy said. “She’s steady every night.”
The Stars host Palmer at 6 p.m. today and Wasilla at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Clarion reporter Jeff Helminiak contributed to this story.