The Nikiski High School volleyball team was able to turn up the intensity Friday it was just a little too late to beat District 3/3A rival Seward.
The Seahawks took the match in four games, winning the first game easily, then scratching out wins in games three and four to take the match.
"That's something we have to work real hard on playing at an even level throughout the match," said Nikiski coach Bruce King. "It's a classic volleyball problem. The game is 90 percent mental."
Seward caught the Bulldogs on their heels to open the match, jumping out to a 5-0 lead as Nikiski had trouble receiving Kristin Beck's serve. The Seahawks extended their lead and posted a 25-13 win.
Nikiski proved to be a bit feistier in the second game, scoring first and pulling away toward the end for a 25-17 win. Nikiski's Hannah Thompson served three straight points to give the Bulldogs a 16-13 lead, and Saharai Thompson served the last five points of the game to level the match at one game apiece.
Nikiski kept that momentum rolling into the third game, taking a 3-1 lead, but the Bulldogs' serve-receive broke down in the middle of the game as Seward's Lara Loomis served her team into a commanding 19-12 lead with nine straight service points.
Nikiski's Sasha Auldridge made a well-placed tip for a kill to stop the bleeding. The Bulldogs rallied to within four points, but Seward hung on to win the game.
Game four was tight from the start until, once again, Nikiski had problems with a Seward server. This time, Breanna Bardarson hit three straight serves to turn a five-point lead into an eight-point (19-11) advantage.
Nikiski continued to battle. Amber Huhndorf pulled the Bulldogs to within four points from the service line. Then, with the score 22-19 in Seward's favor, Nikiski's Stacey Griffel got back-to-back kills from Thompson for two service points to narrow the gap to one.
Seward's Krista Boulden ended Griffel's service run with a kill, though, and Beck made two serves, including a let-serve ace on game point, to close out the match.
"It was interesting," said Seward coach Angie Hammer. "We've had a lot of ups and downs this year, learning a different offense. It's getting better. The movement is getting better and the communication."
Hammer said that while some of her top hitters weren't at their best, she was pleased to see players off the bench come in and make a contribution, noting in particular that Serena Hoogland was able to give the Seahawks a boost in the third and fourth games.
Hammer also noted that Nikiski's scrappy defense made her team work harder players who were used to seeing their hits reach the floor untouched had to stay focused, because most of those hits were being dug on the other side of the net.
"I think my girls really were surprised by the effort Nikiski put forth. They're a really scrappy bunch," Hammer said.
Both the Seahawks and the Bulldogs said the match was good in that it illustrated what they needed to work on to be ready for the district tournament.
"We're still getting used to the rotation," said Nikiski's Georgie Heaverley. "It's going to take a lot of work. All the girls on this team are so dedicated, we can accomplish it, but it's going to take a lot of work.
"We know we've made some mistakes. We know what we have to work on. We just need to stay focused and intense."
King said that with his young squad, he's just starting to a get a feeling for who his go-to players will be down the stretch.
"I think we saw some players start to step up," King said. "We want to see who the kids are on this team who will step up when things get tight.
"We lost a golden opportunity to set ourselves up for the second half of the season, but we're not going to roll over for anybody."
Bartlett takes Peninsula Challenge
The Bartlett High School volleyball team defeated Juneau Douglas in four games Saturday to take the title at the Peninsula Challenge tournament in Homer.
Bartlett won 25-21, 25-19, 19-25, 25-21 in the final.
Soldotna won its first match in the best two-of-three opening round, defeating Homer's JV 25-12, 25-7, but lost in two games to Juneau, 25-15, 25-16, in the second round.
The host Mariners had a first-round bye, but lost to Bartlett 25-17, 25-11 in the second round.
In the loser's bracket, Soldotna defeated its own JV squad in two games before losing to Homer 25-16, 25-19. The Mariners lost to Juneau, a two-game loser to Bartlett in the winners bracket semifinal, in three games, 19-25, 25-23, 25-11, giving Juneau a second chance at Bartlett in the final.
Nikki Moss of Bartlett was named tournament MVP while the all-tournament team included Bartlett's Vanessa Campbell, Megan Doyle and Amanda Foe; Homer's Sarah Manalisay and Chantrelle Cousins and Bailey Lowney; Juneau's Rochelle Rodman, Karla Dunivin and Julie Heard; and Soldotna's Megan Needs and Stacey Foster.
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