Their coach being honored for 15 years of service. The last match against their biggest rival. An undefeated record on the line for senior night.
It was a big moment, but it wasn’t bigger than the Skyview volleyball team.
The Panthers did not trail through the first two games, dropped a third game due to a late Soldotna rally, then held off a resilient Stars bunch in the fourth game for a nonconference victory Tuesday at Skyview.
The 25-16, 25-13, 22-25 and 25-19 victory runs the Panthers’ record to 13-0 in nontournament play.
It also sends seniors Sam Reynolds, Cat Schoessler, Cheyanne Laber and Casey Neill, and coach Sheila Kupferschmid, out as winners in the final chapter of the grand Skyview-Soldotna volleyball rivalry as Skyview prepares to close its doors for good after this school year.
The programs have had many epic battles through the years, and Neill and Laber said that focused the Panthers despite all the potential distractions.
“When we feel threatened by the other team, we play a lot better,” said Laber, who led the Panthers with 13 kills and also had two blocks.
Added Neill, who had 44 digs and four aces: “We were saying that if any team could beat us it would be Soldotna. Now that we beat them, we feel that we can beat anybody now.”
Skyview was locked in from the outset, taking a 13-7 lead in the first game on four straight towering, topspin jump serves from Neill. Hayley Ramsell, who had nine kills, 13 digs and two aces, then closed out the 25-16 win with six straight service points.
“We really wanted to come out and win because it’s Soldotna,” Laber said. “All our fans were here and we really appreciated that.
“It’s the last year Skyview is open and to beat Soldotna is pretty awesome.”
The Panthers continued to press the advantage in the second game, as four serves from Reynolds, who had 12 kills, eight digs and three aces, gave the Panthers a 4-0 lead. Neill would add four service points as the Panthers had a commanding 15-6 lead en route to the 25-13 win.
Soldotna middle hitter Katelynn Kerkvliet was the most prolific attacker on the floor, racking up 16 kills. But Kupferschmid said the Panthers, who also got four kills, 13 digs and five aces from Schoessler, two kills from Jacy Rouse and 31 assists from Emily DiPaulo, were able to overwhelm with balance.
“Katelynn Kerkvliet did a very good job,” Kupferschmid said. “She got her hands on a lot of balls.
“I would have to say our front line dominated. They were the difference makers for us tonight.”
In the third game, it looked like the Stars might go quietly into the night before Skylar Shaw toed the service line. With seven serves, Shaw turned a 19-14 deficit into a 21-19 lead.
“We broke down,” Laber said. “I think we kind of thought we had the match won and we couldn’t pick it up in time.”
Shaw’s service run fired up the Stars, who took Game 3 25-22 and jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the fourth game.
Skyview was able to steady the ship, though. Although Kupferschmid said the Stars and the crafty setting of Julie Litchfield, who also had seven kills, did a great job exposing holes in Skyview’s defense, the coach added that a heroic effort by libero Neill was able to hold off the SoHi attack enough.
“Casey Neill was phenomenal,” Kupferschmid said. “That’s the best match she has had in her little high school career.”
A kill by Kerkvliet brought the Stars to 15-13, but that is as close as the SoHi would get in the 25-19 loss.
The rivalry officially ended when the Panthers could not return a match-point serve of Reynolds.
Kupferschmid said it was hard to feel pure joy as the teams walked off the same floor for the last time.
“I’m sad it’s over,” Kupferschmid said. “This was good for the community. It’s good for a community to have a rivalry that everybody cares about as much as this.”
She was happy to send out the four seniors, who also played for her in eighth grade, as winners in the rivalry.
“They’ve been with me for five years,” Kupferschmid said. “They’ve been with me to camp and to the volleyball festival.
“They’re also all in strength class here at Skyview. It not just me. The whole school deserves credit for what they have become.”
Neill left no doubt who deserves the lion’s share of the credit, though.
“She understands,” she said. “She knows how to push you so you never take it easy.”
Kupferschmid, who has led Skyview to five state tournament appearances and two conference tournament titles since taking over the program in 1999, was honored with cake and ice cream after the match. She is the first of the longtime Skyview coaches to be honored as part of the school’s final year.
“Thank you to Skyview for everything over the past 15 years,” Kupferschmid said. “It’s been great coaching here. The athletes and the parents have been great to work with.”