It's not every day that the Class 3A Nikiski High School volleyball team faces a Class 4A opponent like Soldotna.
But it's not every day that the Stars face a player like Bulldogs middle hitter Mindy Cason, either.
With Cason holding her own against Soldotna twin-tower middle hitters Rachel Besse and Hillary Zobeck, Nikiski notched a 15-0, 15-12, 10-15 and 15-10 victory over the Stars Saturday at Soldotna.
"Mindy Cason was probably the best player out there," said Soldotna coach Pako Whannell. "She's big, but she's quick, too.
"I think because she moves so well she surprised our hitters in the first two games and got a lot of blocks. That threw our hitters off."
Cason said she looked forward to the challenge presented by Besse and Zobeck Saturday, and Bulldogs coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen said Cason lived up to that challenge.
"I really thought she used each set to the best of her ability," Hobart-Verkuilen said after Cason finished with eight kills.
Nikiski got off to a quick start in the match by shutting out Soldotna in game one.
"This was disappointing after playing Kenai the other day with all that intensity and emotion," Whannell said of SoHi's five-game loss to Kenai Thursday. "That was a different team out there.
"Our defense didn't show up the first two games."
Soldotna settled in a little despite losing the second game, then came out strong in the third game. Zobeck started the game by serving out eight straight points.
"Our serve-receive game has been a thorn in our flesh all season, and we had problems with it there," Hobart-Verkuilen said.
According to Cason, the Bulldogs wanted to concentrate on defense and serve-receive passing Saturday.
"We weren't communicating (at the start of the third game)," Cason said. "It was just silent on the court."
Although Nikiski never recovered from the early deficit in the third game, the Bulldogs did recover to take the fourth game.
Nikiski fell behind 2-1 before Kassie Thomson served five straight points to make it 6-2. Nikiski held on to that cushion until Cason finished off the match with a service point that gave the Bulldogs a 15-10 victory.
Liz Golia finished with seven assists, while April Lofstedt had 10 digs and 14 perfect passes. Hobart-Verkuilen also credited Ashley Goff with a good digging and serve-receive day.
For Soldotna, Besse and Zobeck each had seven kills, while Besse had three kill blocks. Tabitha Strauss added two aces and one kill block, while Ashley Duwe had seven aces.
"I have so much confidence in Pako Whannell," Hobart-Verkuilen said. "I have no doubt she'll have this team improving every match.
"The teams that are writing them off might want to take another look come tournament time."
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