The Soldotna High School volleyball team was back in the saddle Thursday night, defeating the host Skyview Panthers in four games in a Region III/4A match.
"It's a blast," said Soldotna setter Toni Gilbert of the Stars' 15-13, 10-15, 15-4, 15-5 victory. "It's a big rivalry, but it's a blast, especially if you win."
The Stars led 7-1 early in game one before the Panthers started clawing their way back into the game. Skyview drew to within a point, 14-13, before Hillary Zobeck finished off the game from the service line.
Skyview stole some of Soldotna's thunder in the second game when Amanda Bauer served up three straight points to put the Panthers up 9-7.
The Stars chipped away and regained a one-point lead, but Christine Hayes served for six points for the Panthers, with Bauer and Beth Massey combining on a pair of blocks to end rallies. Bauer also spiked the ball for three points during the run, including a big hit to end the game and tie the match.
"She was hot," said Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid. "They couldn't stop her. I thought that was her best match ever."
Bauer stayed hot through games three and four, finishing the match with 14 kills, but the Soldotna blockers started picking up everything else, helping the Stars jump out to a 7-1 lead in game three and a 10-2 lead in game four.
"The blocking of Rachel Besse at the net had a tremendous impact," said Soldotna coach Ron Becker.
In fact, the Stars scored a point or a sideout on Besse's blocks four times in game three and twice -- the final two points of the match -- in game four.
With blocking in place, Zobeck and Danielle Kerrone were free to swing away as the outside hitters.
"We have a lot of good hitters who know how to get on top of the ball if we do it right," Gilbert said. "We could work a little on our passing, but we've been pretty strong with everything we do."
Thursday's victory put the Stars back on the winning track after dropping two region matches over the weekend.
"We had a tough weekend," Becker said, referring to last weekend's matches with Colony and Palmer. "We played hard and let those two Valley teams off the hook. We came, played hard and showed heart and determination."
The Stars did get a boost from the Soldotna student body, which turned out in force, many of them just off the Stars football practice field.
"That makes a world of difference," Becker said of the support.
Kupferschmid said she was pleased with the effort she saw on the court from the Panthers.
"I believe in these kids," Kupferschmid said. "I believe they'll bounce back after this. The effort was there, we just didn't execute like we should have to win.
"A lot of times, you can use losing to your benefit."
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