The Nikiski volleyball team was a day late for their Halloween tricks.
The Bulldogs gave conference opponent Skyview a scare Friday night at Nikiski High School, nearly pulling off an upset over the undefeated Panthers.
Ultimately, Skyview managed to escape with a 3-2 victory that kept its 16-0 season intact with game scores of 21-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-15 and 15-8.
The win also bumps Skyview’s record up to 9-0 in the Southcentral Conference, keeping the Panthers atop the standings as the region tournament draws nearer. But before a ball sent by senior Cheyanne Laber over the net was dropped by Nikiski for the final point, it was an intense battle all the way.
“We were really nervous, but we pulled through,” said senior Sam Reynolds. “If they’re in it, they’re going to fight. They’re going to push.”
Reynolds had 11 kills, while junior Hayley Ramsell led the Panthers with 16 kills, 14 service points and 23 digs. Laber added 15 service points and 11 kills, junior Emily DiPaulo had 34 assists, senior Cat Schoessler notched 12 service points, and senior libero Casey Neill had 12 service points and 22 digs.
“I felt we started too relaxed, like we were expecting an easy win so we didn’t push as hard in the beginning,” said Neill. “We were trying out a new rotation, so that kind of threw us off a bit. But I think we’re going to be using that now.”
Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid said the backline of her lineup was brought farther up to help prevent other teams tipping the ball for points — something that she said has been done to the Panthers a lot this year.
“I used a different defense, and that helped,” Kupferschmid said. “Casey Neill came through for us again.”
Perhaps the spark that was needed for Skyview came after Game 3, when Nikiski held a 2-1 match lead and looked like it was headed for a surprise victory. Kupferschmid brought her team into the locker room for about a minute to get them focused on what they needed to do, and did the same after Game 4.
“I do that to take them out of the environment, to come out fresh again, and to renew their confidence,” Kupferschmid said. “It doesn’t work all the time, but it worked tonight. Just try to change the momentum, and I’m happy with my kids. They could’ve folded after being down, and there’s a lot of pressure on them.
“There’s not a lot of teams going 16-0, but Nikiski played excellent ball.”
Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said she was proud of how her team executed, especially the senior class, like Katie Costello, who had 21 digs and 10 kills.
Rebekah Krogseng added 34 digs, nine kills and three service aces for Nikiski, libero Laura Hufford notched 26 digs, setter Rachel Thompson had 28 assists, 21 digs and three service aces, and Jodi Cook hit 10 kills and four blocks.
“I have complete confidence in my team and knew they could do it,” Segura said. “We were very excited to be ahead 2-1. I wasn’t really thinking about it, I was just taking it one play at a time getting where we needed to go, and making sure I was giving the girls the correct information to get them there.”
Early on, it looked like an upset in the making. Nikiksi continued to keep the Skyview defensive unit off balance with superb passing that translated to powerful shots from Krogseng and Costello. In the first game, the Bulldogs busted out to a 9-4 lead, then continued to withstand Skyview’s charges.
Nikiski rolled off six straight points that left the Bulldogs with game point at 24-17, but Skyview struck back with four quick points before Nikiski got the game-winner off a Costello tip to win 25-21.
In the second game, Skyview was the one to start hot, streaking out to an 8-4 lead with spot-on serving from Laber. The Panthers found themselves in the exact same position as Nikiski in Game 1 — match point at 24-17 — but it wasn’t until five successive Nikiski points later that Skyview finally took the game 25-22.
Game 3 featured a very back-and-forth look, as neither team could string together more than three points at a time. Eventually, the ‘Dogs took the win when freshman Ayla Pitt knocked down a rare tip on Skyview to win 25-23.
If there was one thing Skyview was having trouble with, it was serving. On numerous occasions, Nikiski garnered points off a ball that was served low into the net or was wide and out of bounds.
“That’s off. My kids do not miss that many serves,” Kupferschmid said. “I think it’s a momentum thing, it’s a jitter thing.”
Kupferschmid’s locker room timeout seemed to work, as the Panthers started the fourth game with a 5-0 run and continued to distance themselves en route to the 25-15 win, setting up a winner-take-all Game 5.
“I definitely think our hitting was working so well that they weren’t able to keep up with their passing,” Segura said. “It made their offense more difficult to run, which is key for a team that is 16-0.”
Laber, Reynolds and Ramsell started Game 5 with a strong hitting attack that led to a quick 5-1 lead, and Skyview was also able to get points off of Nikiski mistakes. The Bulldogs had three dropped balls, including the final point that gave the Panthers a 15-8 win and the overall match.
Nikiski 3, Houston 0
The host Bulldogs finished off the regular season with a Southcentral Conference sweep of the Hawks. The scores were 25-8, 25-19 and 25-17.
Nikiski finishes 4-6 in the conference and 5-10 overall.
Segura said her squad played a little down after the big match against Skyview, but serving and passing was able to save the day.
“Because our passing and serving was consistent, we were able to throw Houston off on defense,” Segura said.
Seniors Krogseng, Costello and Cook took the floor for the last time after being honored Friday.
“I’m proud of the three seniors, the way they handled themselves over the last few weeks,” Segura said. “They really helped the team with confidence.”
Krogseng had seven kills, Costello had four aces, and Cook had five kills and two blocks. Also for Nikiski, Thompson had 20 assists, seven aces and four kills, while Hufford had 18 digs.
“I think we’re exactly where we need to be, even though our season record may not show it,” Segura said. “We’re going into the tournament playing well, and the girls have improved tremendously over the course of the season.”