The Nikiski volleyball squad swept the visiting Homer Mariners in three games at Nikiski High on Tuesday night, but the action was closer than the end result indicates.
The Bulldogs won with game scores of 27-25, 25-16 and 25-23, and the victory stopped a losing streak of three games for Nikiski (tournament games excluded), and brought their overall season record to 4-9.
In what was a balanced effort for Nikiski, head coach Stacey Segura said the thing that stood out most to her was hitting and attacking.
“At first, I thought we only missed like three or four serves, but we actually ended up missing seven,” Segura said. “But you couldn’t even tell. It didn’t make a difference. The girl’s hitting and passing was so in tune and together, that that was the difference right there.”
Outside hitter Katie Costello led the team in hitting with nine kills, while teammate Ayla Pitt had seven. Additionally, libero Laura Hufford had 34 digs, setter Rachel Thompson provided 28 assists and middle hitter Jodi Cook had three blocks.
“The girls are able to move the ball around a little more, I think they’re all confident in each other,” Segura said. “Rachel’s more confident to set assist to all the hitters. Everyone’s able to contribute a little more than they were in the beginning of the season.
“I don’t really think you could tell we were young in this game, and that’s something I was happy with tonight.”
For Homer, libero Maggie Koplin led with 18 digs, outside hitter Tayla Cabana had six kills, setter Larsen Fellows got five kills, hitter Kyla Pitzman had five blocks, and setter McKi Needham added six assists.
Tuesday was also the first time Segura had seen her team play since October 14 against Soldotna — over two weeks ago. Segura was out on maternity leave, so she had a good excuse.
“I was excited to see how the girls were going to play, because I wasn’t able to make it to the Dimond-Service tournament, and I was very pleased,” she said.
In the first game, Homer continued to dog the Nikiski defense with a strong service game, as Needham, Fellows and Zoia Basargin each had effective stints serving the ball. After a timeout, the Mariners took the lead with a few serves from Needham that spurred a five-point run, and left them with a 21-17 lead.
However, Nikiski stormed back with key blocks from Cook and Costello, and once it was clear the winner would need more than 25 points to win, things got intense.
Homer had match point first, but Cabana forced the ball out of bounds to tie the game up, and Pitzman did the same to give Nikiski match point at 25-24. But the Bulldogs couldn’t return the ball on a Homer attack, and so the game was knotted up again.
Finally, two botched attacks by Cabana gave Nikiski a slim win.
“They were working a lot in practice with a lot of different schemes for hitting,” Segura said. “As long as our passing was working out, which it was tonight, we were able to execute that.”
Nikiski held control in the second game with an early 9-0 point streak that allowed them to cruise to the win, but the third game once again featured a tight battle.
A back-and-forth match left Homer clinging to a 16-13 lead, but that’s when Costello struck with three successive points — including two powerful kills — and the Bulldogs ended up taking the lead for good on a serve from Hufford that the Mariners could not return.
Nikiski will face a much tougher challenge on Friday when they host the Skyview Panthers at 5:30 p.m. for a conference matchup. Skyview is currently the only unbeaten team in the Southcentral Conference, holding a 15-0 overall record (8-0 conference). Coach Segura feels like the game comes at a time when her squad is just beginning to hit their stride.
“I think that we’re going into the region tournament exactly where we want to be,” Segura said. “Some teams have a tendency, if you lose a bunch in the season you have the mindset that you’re just going to lose, and if you’re winning a lot during the season, you don’t really get much better, you kind of stay the same. This team is determined to try and get to state.”