The Kenai volleyball team had more to play for Tuesday night against Nikiski than just a win. Not only was it was the Kardinals’ senior night, but they also had a score to settle with the Bulldogs.
Kenai took Tuesday’s nonconference clash three games to one, winning with game scores of 26-24, 25-19, 18-25 and 25-9 at Kenai Central High School. The victory improved Kenai’s nontournament season record to 3-10.
Kenai lost at Nikiski the last time the two squads played four weeks ago, even after winning the first game that night, but Kenai coach Tracie Beck made sure that would not happen again.
“I think you could see that first game (Sept. 24), we executed our game plan perfectly, and Nikiski pulled it together and fought us through,” Beck said. “These girls are finally fighting game after game after game. Sometimes when you get up two games on a team, you relax a little bit, so there’s still things we’re improving on, but we’re definitely a different team.”
Kenai played a well-balanced game Tuesday, serving well, receiving well and keeping Nikiski off-balance, especially in the final game.
Abby Steinbeck had 16 digs, five kills and four stuff blocks, and teammate Kiana Harding tallied nine stuff blocks and two aces. Justice English also had six aces and six kills, Dacia Shier notched seven kills and three aces, and Heidi Perkins provided 15 digs.
Nikiski assistant coach Krystal Keith said she thought middle hitter Jodi Cook played a great game both as a server and hitter. Even with head coach Stacey Segura out on maternity leave, Keith said she didn’t think that was the reason for the loss.
“I think it’s just head games for these girls,” Keith said. “We only missed two serves tonight, which was good, so it’s not because Stacey is out. I think it’s just hard to get back up after going down two games.”
The first game proved to the crowd just how close the two teams play each other. Neither team could gap the other by more than four points, and when it counted most, Kenai stepped up.
Nikiski held a 24-22 lead with match point, but the Kards gutted it out with four straight points to grab the win, getting two kills from Kyla Whannell along the way to win 26-24.
In the second game, Kenai broke a late 17-all tie to score six straight points and clinch the 25-19 win, but Nikiski wasn’t done yet.
“When you have the experience that we have, it’s hard to keep that poker face and have a goal in mind, and not get sucked into mistakes that you’ve made,” Beck said. “The older girls also have lost so many games that they’re already beaten up on themselves, so it’s hard to break that mold at this point in their senior year.”
Nikiski started hot in Game 3 with an early 6-1 lead, and they never let it go, although they had to earn it. In the end, Rebekah Krogseng’s powerful kill points and Cook’s serving won Nikiski the game 25-18.
Kenai put an exclamation on the night with nine unanswered points in the fourth and final game to dominate with a score of 25-9. Harding tallied much of those power hits in the waning minutes.
“I think this just talks about our great seniors, we have four great seniors,” Beck said. “We could tell they are great teammates and leaders, because you could see the other girls fighting to have a great senior night for them.”
Shier, English, Paige Ramos and Falon McGahan represent the senior class on Kenai’s volleyball team, and Beck said that of those four girls, only English has spent all four of her high school years on the varsity team.