Things got pretty loud and crazy on the Soldotna High School gym floor Friday night during the Stars’ four-game volleyball victory over rival Kenai Central.
Things are only going to get louder and crazier.
The two Kenai Peninsula teams in the Northern Lights Conference wrapped up their regular season with Friday’s match, which had scores of 21-25, 25-19, 25-18 and 27-25.
Thursday, the Northern Lights Conference tournament starts at Soldotna, with three berths to the state tournament on the line, and the Stars and Kards are set to match up again.
Kodiak won the regular season at 10-0, while Palmer was 8-2, SoHi was 5-5, Colony was 4-6, Wasilla was 2-8 and Kenai was 1-9. Kodiak and Palmer earn first-round byes, while it will be SoHi vs. Kenai and Colony vs. Wasilla in the first round.
“It’s good to have our fans to get us going,” said SoHi setter Julie Litchfield, who was honored on senior night along with Katelynn Kerkvliet, Makayla Wong and Kiana Hendricks. “Having them should also get us going for the region tournament.”
The Stars needed the fan support after the Kardinals showed up intent on proving how much they had improved since getting swept by Soldotna on Sept. 17.
“Kenai is a lot different,” said Soldotna coach Emily Kenagy. “We may have underestimated them because they have changed so much since the last time we played them.”
The Kards showed off that improvement right away. The first game was tied at 21 before Kenai got a side-out on a SoHi hitting error. Alli Steinbeck then served out the final three points.
“We came in and executed our game plan,” Kenai coach Tracie Beck said. “We had a specific game plan for SoHi, and they believed in it and executed it.”
Beck said the problem came after the first game, when the Kards got away from the game plan and started playing their normal game instead of their SoHi-specific game.
“We got our energy up after the first game,” Litchfield said. “Kenai has definitely improved, and I also think they really wanted to beat SoHi.”
The Stars fought back with Litchfield running the show and feeding hitters Kerkvliet, who had 16 kills, and Wong, who had nine kills.
“I’ve been playing with Katelynn for all four years and she is a great hitter,” Litchfield said. “It’s the same thing with Makayla.”
The Kards kept Game 2 close, with a SoHi hitting error cutting the Stars’ lead to 20-19. But Kenai came right back with a hitting error, then Skylar Shaw served out the final four points for Soldotna.
Shaw’s serve was the difference again in the third game. The Kards grabbed a 15-13 lead on an ace by Justice English, who had 20 digs and 11 aces. But English hit her next serve out, and Shaw served out nine straight points for a 23-15 lead. Shaw had two aces during the run, and Kerkvliet had two kills and a stuff block.
Kenai led 17-11 in the fourth game, but a missed serve gave the ball to SoHi’s Katelyn Earll. Earll, who hit 19 of 21 serves on the night, served seven straight for a 19-17 lead.
The rest of the match was tight, with ties at 19, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25.
Kenai had game point at 24-23 with Steinbeck serving, but the Kards were called for a double hit in the midst of a long rally.
Coach Beck said the call was frustrating and said she would have liked to see the players decide that point.
“I’m proud of the girls for playing hard the entire match,” she said. “They wanted this. They put their hearts into this.”
A kill by Abby Beck gave the Kards another game point at 25-24, but a missed serve by Dacia Shier put the ball in the hands of Litchfield.
The senior got one service point on a stuff block by Kerkvliet for a 26-25 score, then served out the match after a Kenai hitting error.
“Everybody on the team played and everybody contributed,” Kenagy said.
For the Kards, Beck had 16 digs, 13 assists, eight kills and three assists; Kiana Harding had seven kills and four stuff blocks, Shier had seven kills and two aces; Sierra Hall had two aces; and Heidi Perkins had 14 digs.