The Nikiski High School volleyball team needed just three games to defeat Homer Friday at Nikiski.
The Bulldogs came out swinging, taking game one 15-5. The Mariners had a solid defensive effort and challenged Nikiski in game two, but the Bulldogs prevailed 15-8. The Bulldogs refused to allow the Mariners to gather any momentum in game three, closing out the match with a 15-3 win.
"I'm excited that we won," said Nikiski coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen. "I thought we played a little slow. We didn't have a consistent level of intensity.
"We made some good things happen -- some things we were working on in practice are showing up in our games, and that always makes a coach happy."
Nikiski sent a message with the opening rally as Laura Berdahl won the first side-out of the match with an impressive kill.
That message fell on deaf Mariner ears, though, as Homer's Joy Epley responded in kind to win the serve back.
But Nikiski proved to be too strong across the front row. Berdahl hit a winner off the Homer block to earn a side-out and April Lofstedt put the first point on the board with another hit off the Mariner block.
That proved to be the way the night would go for Homer -- the Mariners would come up with a good play to win the serve, but the Bulldogs would win the ball right back, often limiting Homer to just one serve at a time.
"We played hard the whole time," said Homer coach Beth Trowbridge. "I was surprised to look up and see the score. We played with equal intensity from point one through point 15. We didn't let ourselves get down."
Nikiski's Jessica Arness served for five straight points to end the first game. Arness mixed three aces into the run, including one on a short serve that fooled the Mariners on the final point of the game.
Ashley Goff served the Bulldogs to a 6-0 lead in game two, with two points in the run coming from Berdahl by way of an alert little tip and a block.
Lofstedt served up a four point run in the middle of the game, then served the final point of the game for the Bulldogs.
"We used our serve as an offensive weapon, rather than just a way to put the ball in play," Hobart-Verkuilen said.
The Bulldogs certainly didn't want to give the Mariners any room to breathe.
"I was afraid if we opened the door for Homer, they'd come right back on us," Hobart-Verkuilen said. "They're a good club."
Homer had rallied for four straight points in game two on Christy Walkden's serve, but the Bulldogs made sure the door stayed shut in the final game of the match.
Berdahl increased Nikiski's lead from the service line from 2-0 to 5-0, thanks to an ace, a dink for a point by Lofstedt, and some strong play at the net from Karen Rabung.
Lofstedt stretched that lead to 8-0 from the service line, getting a block by Rabung along the way.
The teams traded side-outs, with Homer winning a pair of points, until Lofstedt returned to the service line to ring up four more points, including an ace and a big hit by Mindy Cason, to give Nikiski a 12-2 lead.
Laura-Beth Covich added two from the service line, one on a block by Cason, and Joy Carr finished off the Mariners and the match with a big kill on Goff's serve.
"We played really good defense," Covich said. "It's hard for us to play when the game moves slow. It's hard to keep the intensity level up. Sometimes we'd get caught, and they'd get some points. ... I get worried when they score three or four points in a row on us, but this team always comes through."
Nikiski 3, Heritage 0
The host Bulldogs swept Heritage Saturday 15-6, 15-6 and 15-1 in Region III/3A play.
Laura Berdahl paced the Bulldogs with nine kills, while April Lofstedt added three. Setter Laura-Beth Covich jump-started the attack with 48 assists.
"Laura Berdahl really played well offensively," Nikiski coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen said. "She usually leads us, but I don't think people know how athletically talented she is.
"When you're watching her, she's doing a lot of things other middle hitters aren't."
Despite Berdahl's attacking skills, Heritage scrambled enough to make things interesting.
"The scores don't indicate how close the games felt," Hobart-Verkuilen said. "Heritage did a great job of hustling and covering the court. I felt like they could come back any time. I was impressed."
Kassie Thompson finally put Heritage away by serving the last eight points in game three.
"She did a great job moving the serve around on the court and picking on different people," Hobart-Verkuilen said. "She came in really focused off the bench and finished the game for us."
Nikiski's next game is Saturday, when the Bulldogs host Seward. Seward is the only team Nikiski has lost to in the region.
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