The Nikiski High School volleyball team was able to talk a good game Tuesday, handing Soldotna its first loss of the season in three games in a nonconference match at Nikiski.
"I think we talked really good tonight," Nikiski's Amber Huhndorf said of her team's keys to success. "When it got tough, we pulled together and talked a lot.
"It keeps you closer together. You know where each other is, and who has your back. It's reassuring."
By contrast, Soldotna coach Pako Whannell attributed her squad's breakdowns to a lack of chatter on the court.
"There was no communication. When you can't communicate, you can't pass, and you can't attack," Whannell said.
Things started well enough for the Stars, who maintained a one- or two-point edge through much of the first game before Nikiski's Amber Huhndorf stepped to the service line and tied the game at 21.
Huhndorf rattled off three more points on serves the Stars had trouble handling to give the Bulldogs a 24-21 lead. Huhndorf's run ended when her next serve sailed long, but the ensuing Soldotna server was not to put the ball in play either, giving the game to the Bulldogs, 25-22.
Nikiski coach Bruce King said Huhndorf has made a difference in games with her serve.
"She's been doing that for us all season, stepping back to the service line and putting the other team on their heels," King said.
Nikiski and Soldotna traded points early in the second game before Sasha Auldridge put together a run from the service line as the Bulldogs built a 13-9 lead.
Nikiski extended that lead, and Krystal Gladden recorded a kill to get the Bulldogs to game point, 24-16. The Stars won back the serve, and Paige Blackburn came up with a block to get Soldotna another point, but the Bulldogs won 25-18 on another bad Soldotna serve.
Nikiski kept its momentum going in the third game, jumping out to a 9-0 lead on serving by Huhndorf and net play from Georgie Heaverley.
Blackburn netted a kill to end Nikiski's run, and the Stars battled their way back into the game. Lauren Sennette served for five points Stacey Foster and Christa Kennedy recorded kills during her run to pull Soldotna to within four points, 12-8, and Allyssa Roach put together a five-point service run, mixing in an ace and a kill from Kala Fowler, to tie the game at 18.
The Bulldogs won back the serve when a Soldotna attack ended up in the net, and Huhndorf then served out the match, giving Nikiski a 25-19 win.
Heaverley finished with seven kills to lead the Bulldogs, Auldridge came up with 20 digs, and Huhndorf finished with five aces.
"We'll learn from this," Whannell said. "We'll talk about it tomorrow and move on."
Huhndorf also said there were things upon which the Bulldogs could improve.
"Our passing it's efficient, but there's always room for improvement," Huhndorf said.
King said the Bulldogs have played well enough to win each of their matches, but have had ups and downs each time they take the court.
"This is a veteran team. They know what they need to do out there," King said.
The Bulldogs also are learning to play without Hannah Thompson, who is sidelined with an injury.
"Every match we can win without her puts us in a better position down the road," King said.
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