The Nikiski High School volleyball team won a bruising match with Kenai Central Tuesday, defeating the Kardinals in four games in front of a boisterous North Road crowd.
"They're wonderful to have. They're so positive," said Nikiski's Hannah Thompson of the Bulldogs' raucous fans. "We have their voices telling us to keep going, not to let down."
The Bulldogs certainly gave the crowd plenty to cheer about, winning the first game 25-18 before the Kardinals were able to rally for a 25-23 win in the second game.
The Bulldogs took the third game 25-18, then held off a late Kenai rally to clinch the match with a 25-23 win in game four.
"I have a feeling every time we play Kenai, it's going to be just like that," said Nikiski coach Bruce King. "These teams are so evenly matched and the players know each other so well."
Indeed, players exchanged hugs and well wishes following the match, but it was all business while the ball was in play. The Bulldogs were led by Thompson's 17 kills and five blocks, while Georgie Heaverley notched 11 kills.
King also noted that his team combined to come up with 86 digs, led by 15 from Stacey Griffel and 14 each from Sasha Auldridge and Amber Huhndorf.
"Defense and passing is really what won the game, even though we looked pretty good on offense," King said.
Thompson said the Bulldogs' hitters had their job made easier Griffel's setting.
"We were passing well and digging well, and Stacey was getting us the balls in the right spot," Thompson said.
Kenai actually opened the match with a five-point run as Kendra Steiner started the Kardinals off on the right foot from the service line.
Nikiski battle back to tie the game at nine on a kill from Thompson, and took its first lead as Thompson served for two more points to give the Bulldogs an 11-9 edge.
The Bulldogs added to their lead, and Griffel served for three straight points, mixing in an ace and getting a kill from Racheal Gerke, to give Nikiski a 24-17 lead.
The Kardinals won the serve back, but their attack on the ensuing rally went wide to end the game.
Kenai and Nikiski traded leads through the second game and a kill from Jamie Peterson tied the score at 23.
Kaitlin Walker then served for a pair of points to level the match as Peterson was able to dig a Nikiski hit back over the net for game point.
Nikiski led early in the third game before Kenai came back to tie the game at 10, but the Bulldogs regained their advantage. A kill from Krystal Gladden gave Nikiski a 23-19 lead, and Auldridge served out the game as Heaverley clinched it with an authoritative kill.
In the fourth game, Auldridge broke open a tight game with five straight service points to give Nikiski a 14-8 lead. Kenai chipped away, though, and Samantha Calderwood came up with a block to win the serve and pull the Kardinals to within three points, 22-19.
Walker then served for four points to give Kenai a 23-22 lead Calderwood added a kill during the run but Thompson stopped the rally with a block. With Thompson serving, Gladden stuffed a Kenai pass that drifted too close to the net, then notched another block to win the game.
"We're still in that slump of ours, still learning how to work again," said Kenai coach Jason Diorec. "It's all about consistency consistency and our mental game. The scores in the games we have played say exactly that hot and cold, hot and cold."
The Kardinals are off until Sept. 30 when they travel to Homer while Nikiski will travel to Anchorage for matches with Heritage Christian and Grace Christian Friday and Saturday.
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