Call it the toughest three-game win the Nikiski High School volleyball team will get this season.
The Bulldogs, hosting Kenai Central in what has become one of the most spirited rivalries on the peninsula, surprised the Kardinals and themselves with a 25-14, 25-22, 25-21 nonconference victory Tuesday.
"It was totally unexpected," said Nikiski coach Bruce King. "I thought this one was going to go five, just like the last one."
Instead, the Bulldogs were able to dig just about everything the Kardinals threw their way, and while King had his team down for just three aces, he said he felt the Bulldogs' service game kept the Kardinals off-balance for much of the match.
"We were really excited to come out here and play, but we didn't play as well as we were hoping to," said Kenai's Katie Foley. "... I thought Kendra (Steiner, the Kenai setter) did a really good job setting the ball and running the team. Our hitters were really on, but they (Nikiski) had really good defense today."
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first game on five straight service points by Amber Huhndorf. Huhndorf fired an ace during the run, and Hannah Thompson notched one of her 13 kills on the night.
Kenai mustered a few points here and there, but the Kardinals never got on a roll as Thompson or Georgie Heaverley always came up with a big kill for the Bulldogs. Kenai pulled back to within four points at 13-9 and 14-10, but a cleverly played second touch from Nikiski setter Stacey Griffel made it 15-10, and Sasha Auldridge put the game out of reach with five straight services points for a 20-10 lead. Huhndorf served the final two points of the game, with Thompson getting a tip kill to end it.
Kenai stayed close early in the second game as Amber McGlasson and Lindsay Keener played well at the net, but Huhndorf again put together a five-point service run to give the Bulldogs a 17-10 lead. Kenai battled back to within three points as another crafty second-touch tip for a kill from Steiner made it 19-16. The Kardinals even pulled to within two as a pair of kills by Jamie Peterson made it 24-22, but Heaverley hammered a kill of the Kenai blockers to secure the two-game advantage for the Bulldogs.
Kenai led a game for the first time in the match to open the third game as the Bulldogs sent a hit long on the opening rally and Steiner served up an ace for a 2-0 lead.
Nikiski quickly pulled even on a kill by Thompson, though, and edged ahead as three service points by Clare Bennett gave the Bulldogs an 8-5 lead.
The Kardinals stayed within three points the rest of the way, but couldn't quite get past the Bulldogs to extend the match. Heaverley served for the match, and while the Bulldogs attack appeared to sail long, officials ruled that a Kenai blocker had tipped the ball, ending the game.
Foley said that Kenai had trouble defending Nikiski's cross-court attacks, while Auldridge, Thompson and Huhndorf notched 20, 15 and 14 digs for the Bulldogs.
Also coming up big for the Bulldogs was Flossie Jorgensen with nine blocks, and Sherra Pritchard with seven blocks.
"They did really good," Auldridge said of the Kardinals. "They played really good defense and gave us a lot of different offensive looks."
Auldridge said the key for the Bulldogs was teamwork, and said her squad communicated well despite the noisy gym. fans of both teams filled two sections of the Nikiski gym, and neither side quieted down until the end of the match.
"All the fans here pumps everybody up. It makes it a more intense game," Auldridge said.
Tuesday marked the final Kenai-Nikiski match for several players as both rosters are stocked with seniors. Auldridge said the familiarity made the rivalry all that much more fun.
"It's my last Kenai game," said Auldridge, a senior. "There's a lot of intensity and so many fans, but we've been friends with them forever."
Skyview 3, Homer 0
The Panthers swept the Mariners in a Northern Lights Conference match in Homer. Skyview won 25-12, 25-19, 25-18.
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