After getting a late start on the high school volleyball season, the Soldotna Stars must have wanted to get the most out of their match Tuesday at Nikiski.
The Stars and the Bulldogs went the distance, battling for five games before Soldotna prevailed three games to two for a non-region win.
"I thought both teams played really hard," said Soldotna coach Ron Becker. "It was a great match to watch. I wish I could have been a fan -- I'd have enjoyed watching this one."
The Bulldogs came out swinging, taking game one 15-5. Soldotna regrouped and won game two 15-8, but Nikiski took back the advantage by winning game three 15-9.
The Stars started building some momentum with strong net play in game four, taking the game 15-6 to tie the match and force a fifth game, which Soldotna won 15-5.
"I'll tell you what the turning point in the match was," Becker said. "Early in game five, when Laura Berdahl goes up to hit and Toni Gilbert got up to stuff-block her -- that was the turning point in the match.
"I call that a 'happy birthday.' By all rights, that should have been their ball. Instead, we go on a little run."
In fact, Gilbert's block gave the Stars a 1-0 lead in the game, and Tabitha Strauss went on to serve up four more points for a 5-0 Soldotna lead.
Berdahl came up with a block to win a side-out for the Bulldogs, but Hillary Zobeck finished off a rally with a kill to win the serve right back, then added a point from the service line before the Bulldogs were able to get on the board.
The Bulldogs had some nice individual plays throughout the rest of the match -- Mindy Cason put several balls away with authority and Berdahl was a strong presence in both the front and back rows -- but Soldotna's Rachel Besse and Gretta Besse started winning more of the jousts at the net, and Zobeck and Danielle Kerrone were able to hit around or off of Nikiski's blocks consistently.
"Both of our middle hitters, Gretta and Rachel, did a great job blocking, and Danielle and Hillary attacked every ball that was set to them," Becker said.
"We had a hard time adjusting to the tips," said Nikiski coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen. "Between adjusting to their offense and our serve-receive, that was the difference in the game."
Nikiski had the Stars figured out in game one. Berdahl was overpowering at the net while Ashley Goff, Laura-Beth Covich and Ashlee Gillaspie strung together points from the service line for the Bulldogs.
With game two tied at four, the Stars sandwiched three service points from Strauss and four by Zobeck around a single service point by Berdahl, giving Soldotna command of the game with an 11-5 lead. Gilbert served up the final two points of the game for the Stars.
"We would have moments where we were passing well, talking and hitting hard, and then there were moments where we were sitting back on our heels," Hobart-Verkuilen said.
Nikiski's Jessica Arness served for six points early in game three to help the Bulldogs to a 7-1 lead, and Cason unloaded with a canon ball of a kill to finish off the game.
"Mindy had a couple of hits that surprised us and Soldotna," Hobart-Verkuilen said.
Kerrone served Soldotna to a 3-0 lead in game four and Alecia Malchoff added three more points before the Bulldogs could notch a point. Kerrone also finished off game four, winning a side-out with a hit that went through the Nikiski block and then serving for a point to tie the match at two games apiece.
"I thought (Kerrone) hurt us every chance she got," Hobart-Verkuilen said.
The Stars, now 1-0 overall, host Homer Friday with the varsity match scheduled to start at 6:15 p.m.
The Bulldogs, now 2-1 overall, will host Kenai Friday. The varsity match will follow the 6 p.m. JV tilt.
SKYVIEW 3, HOMER 0
The Skyview Panthers defeated the Homer Mariners in three games in a Region III/4A match.
Christine Hayes won 18 points for the Panthers on her serve while Amanda Bauer served for 12 points, notched eight kills and was a perfect 17-for-17 on her serve-receive opportunities.
Angel Hollers was credited with eight kills for the Panthers, Beth Massey had four kills and and five blocks, Jenny Carpenter had five kills and setter Christina Colvin had 21 set-assists.
The Mariners challenged the Panthers in every game, though. Joy Epley had five kills and served well while Alex Drathman had a good night setting for Homer.
Homer (0-4 overall) visits Soldotna Friday while Skyview (2-1) hosts Seward Friday, with the varsity match scheduled to follow the 3 p.m. JV match.
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