The Homer High School volleyball team got in the last word Saturday, defeating Kenai Central in five games in a Region III/4A Southern Division match at Kenai.
The Kardinals came from behind to win the first game 15-12, but the Mariners took the next two, 15-8 and 15-13. Kenai came back in game four, winning 15-6 to force a fifth game, but momentum swung to the Mariners' side for a 15-2 win to seal the match.
"We played out hearts out the whole game," said Kenai's Charity Christensen. "Our team is different this year. We feel strong. Our coaches do nothing but support us throughout the whole game -- that helps a lot."
Kenai scored the first point of game five, but wouldn't score again until the Mariners had rattled off 13 points of their own. Gretchen Duggar served for Homer's first seven points, notching an ace and getting some stellar play at the net from Holly McCune and Chelsea Ward during the run.
Ward served for four more points, starting her run with an ace, and a serve from Sarah Manilisay and a kill on an awkward-angle hit by Sara Thompson gave Homer a 12-1 lead.
McCune came up with a big serve to give the Mariners a 13-1 lead, and after a Kenai ace by Christensen, Tabitha Johnson gave Homer a 14-2 lead with her serve. Thompson finished off the match from the service line as Duggar was able to get a hand on the ball for the winning point.
"It's that much sweeter -- especially against Kenai," McCune said of winning a five-game match against her former team. "You've got to give Chrissy Eller a lot of credit for stepping up and playing middle for us. It was a team effort. We couldn't have done it without all six of us."
McCune said the Mariners were more together this year than in past seasons.
"The team mentality is a lot different this year," McCune said. "It feels like we're more together. I think the team is more well-rounded. If Chelsea and I are having off days, there's someone else that can step up."
The Kardinals also are pulling together as a team.
"Our coaches, during practice, make us communicate," Christensen said. "We're getting used to it. It really does help us. When we're talking, we play as a team. When we don't talk, you can tell."
In the first game, the Mariners built a 10-5 lead before the Kardinals were able to start chipping away. Lenora John served for a pair of points, one of them coming from a kill by Christensen, to cut the Mariners' lead to 10-7.
McCune served for a point, getting a kill by Raquel Kreins, but Kenai won a sideout and Christensen served for three points, getting a kill from Angelica Carreon along the way, to pull the Kardinals to within one point.
Ally deMello pulled the Kardinals into a tie with the Mariners at 11. After a pair of kills by Ward won the Mariners the sideout and a point, Carreon was able to win the serve back for the Kardinals with a kill, then served out the game. Crystal Morris had a block and a kill during the run, and Erin Smith came up with a block.
Johnson provided an edge for the Mariners in the second game, stepping to the service line with the game tied at five and serving four straight points. Johnson added two more on her next turn through the rotation, giving Homer a 13-8 lead, and Thompson's serve made it 14-8. Kreins finished off the game with an ace.
Kenai jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the third game, then built a 10-5 lead after the Mariners had managed to tie the game at 5. The game was knotted again at 10, 11 and 13 before McCune's ace gave Homer a 14-13 lead. After exchanging sideouts, Johnson served for the win, getting a well-placed, third-hit tip over the net by Kreins for the win.
Kenai regrouped to win game four, jumping out to a 4-0 lead, then extending that margin through the rest of the game. Christensen served up an ace to end the game.
Carreon finished the match with 12 kills and 12 digs for the Kardinals while Wolf was solid at the net, blocking well in addition to connecting for several quick-set kills. Kenai coach Tamra Wear also liked the way her side played defense.
"Our quickness in the middle was working very well," Christensen said. "Our passing was there, and our setter (deMello) did an awesome job hustling all over the court."
SOLDOTNA 3, HOMER 1
The Mariners took the first game of the match 15-7, but the Stars won the next three, 16-14, 15-5, 15-7.
Stacey Foster quarterbacked the Stars attack, amassing 30 assists to go with five digs, and Rachel Besse finished with 13 kills, seven kill blocks and nine digs. Hillary Zobeck contributed seven kills, a block, three aces and came up with 10 digs and Ashley Duwe came up with 19 digs to go with seven kills and three aces.
Soldotna coach Pako Whannell said her team looked more confident on the floor.
"There's not so much pressure on one or two people's shoulders," Whannell said. "Everyone decided yes, we're all capable of playing well together. Let's give it 100 percent or more."
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