Even though Nikiski claimed one game in a setback to ACS on Friday night, Bulldogs' coach Sharon Thompson believes her team played one of their top matches against visiting Skyview on Saturday.
And they lost in three games.
"The scores weren't indicative of how they played. I felt this is one of the best matches they've played," Thompson said following the Panthers' 25-21, 25-20 and 25-13 win at Nikiski High School. "Skyview's an excellent team. They're probably the top team on the peninsula right now in my opinion."
They looked like it against the Bulldogs.
Skyview (5-3) quickly jumped in front 5-1 and then 10-4 before the Bulldogs stormed back. They trimmed the deficit to 15-12 and then 21-19, the latter run of five straight points coming on the strength of three strong serves by sophomore Maddie Knoll.
But the Panthers responded down the stretch, taking a 24-21 edge when Nikiski hit into the net and then captured the game on a light tap over by junior Brittany Meyer.
The second game was the opposite of the first, with the Bulldogs jumping in front 9-5 before Skyview, this time, fought its way back into it.
One of Shalene Peek's seven kills made it 10-8 before the Panthers knotted the game at 15 on a Meyer kill off a Candace Penrod set and never looked back.
Junior Melissa Massey (11 kills) converted three consecutive kills to make it 20-17, but Tasha Thompson who recorded 24 digs, six kills and four blocks turned it into a 22-19 game with a hard kill into open space.
Massey, though, followed that with another light tap over for a four-point advantage and, once again, Meyer (seven kills) finished the game off with a spike that landed just inside the back line.
"We haven't learned how to take the lead and keep that momentum going," Thompson explained. "Then we start to have the mental breakdowns and with teams like ACS and Skyview, you can't have those mental breakdowns. But I was very proud of them."
The third game, however, was completely one-sided, with junior Jessie Bilderback who was 19-of-20 on serving ran off three straight solid serves for a 4-1 lead. After the Bulldogs cut it to 4-2, the Panthers strung together seven points in a row off an array of serves from Meyer, increasing the margin to 11-2.
"That's something we've worked on and they're doing a good job with that," Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid said of Meyer mixing her rocket-like serve with a floater that seems to die just as it clears the net. "They're applying what we're practicing."
Nikiski didn't quit, though, taking four straight points behind impressive serves from sophomore Hillary Bogard who also had 14 assists but Skyview was too much, Meyer closing the match with another strong kill.
"Nikiski was very competitive. I thought they served well enough," Kupferschmid said. "I thought Peek is a their difference-maker and she had a good game.
"We've got our offensive weapons, it's just bringing our team together defensively and tightening them up and seeing more balls," she added. "A lot of it's experience and I've got a freshman and a couple sophomores on the floor. That always makes a difference."
Despite the 28-26, 17-25, 20-25, 23-25 home setback to ACS during which Danielle Bower had 26 digs, Bogard picked up 24 digs and 21 assists, Tasha Thompson and Kassi Johnson had 10 digs apiece and Peek recorded eight blocks and seven kills and now the loss to Skyview, coach Thompson is seeing improvement in her team's play.
"We were getting around and we were hitting them and we were putting some good blocks on them. I was real pleased with their performance (Saturday)," she said. "Skyview, they're an excellent team. They're going to go well this year in state I think. The girls just need to keep working like that."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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