Get a few balls to fall their way in the early going, and the Kenai Central High School volleyball team just starts hitting even harder.
That was the case Friday night in Nikiski when the Kardinals jumped out to a quick two-game lead in their best-of-five match with the Bulldogs.
In the middle of the game three, though, the Bulldogs finally got their hackles up and came back to win three straight games to take the nonregion match 14-16, 12-15, 15-7, 15-2, 15-5.
"We may as well as have had Post-It Notes with 'out to lunch' stuck to our foreheads in those first two games," said Nikiski coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen. "I am really pleased with the comeback, to see the kids work so hard for every point."
The Kardinals were overpowering at the net in games one and two. Kenai took a 10-2 lead in the first game. While the Bulldogs came back to force the Kardinals to win it with extra points, Kenai hitters Erica Shinn, Catie Baldwin and Kirsten Ehrhardt were pummeling the ball off, over and through the Nikiski block while setter Jamie Montgomery seemed to be everywhere on the court, always in position to make a great set, dig out a ball or help out with a block.
"That emotion we went out on the court with -- we can do it the whole time," said Kenai coach Vanessa Gabel. "That was the first time I've seen them (play with emotion) as a team. It's a hard thing to do -- you risk the highs with the lows."
Kenai's biggest run from the service line in game two went to Holly McCune, who strung together four consecutive points, but the Kardinals were able to win the side-outs before the Bulldogs could get any momentum going.
Baldwin served the last two points of game two for the Kardinals and went back to the service line early in game three to give the Kardinals an early 5-1 lead.
Nikiski's serve-receive got back on track in game three, though, and the Bulldogs tied the game at five with four straight service points from Laura Berdahl.
"The back row play of Laura Berdahl was a turning point," Hobart-Verkuilen said.
Berdahl's play in the back row got the momentum shifted back to the Nikiski side of the net, and Laura-Beth Covich served seven straight points, getting a pair of aces, a block and a kill from Karen Rabung and a crafty tip from April Lofstedt to give the Bulldogs a 14-6 lead.
Ashley Goff served the final point and Berdahl and Ashlee Gillaspie finished off the game with a block, and all of the sudden the Bulldogs were back in the match.
Nikiski took that momentum and ran with it in game four. Kenai scored the first point of the game on Baldwin's serve, but the Kardinals wouldn't get another point until the Bulldogs had built a 10-1 lead.
Lofstedt got the Bulldogs rolling with three service points, aided by a kill from Jessica Arness. Kassie Thomson served three points, including a hit from Berdahl, and Berdahl served for four points, taking advantage of a breakdown in the Kardinals' serve-receive.
Arness and Covich each added a point with their serves, Goff served up two points and Lofstedt served the final point of the game to tie the match at two games apiece.
"We lost to SoHi in five games (Tuesday)," Covich said. "We worked so hard, and we knew we could have done it, but we didn't get the job done. We didn't want that to happen again."
The Kardinals were still swinging aggressively at the net, but the Bulldogs were digging every ball.
"That's what we've been working on," Covich said. "We've got a strong offense, but we can't do it without our defense."
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