To hear Nikiski coach Bruce King and Soldotna coach Pako Whannell talk, Sigmund Freud would have been the best volleyball coach of all time.
Both coaches talked freely of the mental side of the game Tuesday after Nikiski's 25-18, 29-27 and 25-16 victory over host Soldotna in nonconference action.
The difference in the match came at the end of games one and two. In game one, the teams played back and forth and the score was tied at 15 before the Bulldogs took control.
In game two, Nikiski saved two game points before earning a pivotal victory.
"When it gets tough at the end, when the game is tight, then it's all mental," King said after his team improved to 5-5 overall.
King said his side has been working on staying consistent over the past two weeks.
"We want to take the roller-coaster effect out of our game," King said. "We want to concentrate on every ball.
"Tonight, we did that."
Meanwhile, Pako Whannell said her team did not do as good of a job sustaining mental concentration.
"Volleyball is a mental thing," Whannell said. "It's psychological. Whoever's mentally stronger ends up winning."
In game one, neither team had led by more than two points when Nikiski's Eirleen Lee stepped to the service line with her team leading 19-17.
Lee served for three straight points to put Nikiski up 22-17. The first two came on hitting errors by Soldotna, while the third came on a kill by freshman Hannah Thompson, who led Nikiski with 12 kills and 11 digs.
After SoHi got a point on a lift by Nikiski, the Bulldogs got the serve back on a kill by Sasha Auldridge. Georgie Heaverly, who finished with seven digs and six kills, served out the last two points of the match.
"We were really ready for this game," Auldridge said. "We wanted to show how good we are, and how hard we've been practicing."
The Stars (1-5 overall) came out in game two intent on getting back in the match. They went up 6-3 on a service winner by Stacey Foster, 15-12 on a service winner by Jacquelyn Cowan and 18-15 on another service winner by Foster.
But each time, the Bulldogs steadied themselves and came back to tie.
"We get ahead and we relax a little bit," Whannell said. "Then the other team comes right back.
"We weren't playing to win tonight."
The Stars had a chance to win game two with the score 25-24, but they served the ball out-of-bounds. Soldotna had another chance at 26-25, but Auldridge came up with a kill.
SoHi's Taryn Moeglein then saved a game point with a kill, but Nikiski cashed in on its next game point on a Soldotna hitting error.
Auldridge said it was apparent the loss in game two took a lot out of the Stars, and the Bulldogs opened up an 8-1 lead in the third game behind six service points from Lee.
A measure of SoHi's mental letdown in game three came at the service line. After missing no serves in game one and two in game two, SoHi missed five serves in game three.
Soldotna cut the lead to 10-5 on a kill by Christa Kennedy, but that was as close as the Stars would get in the final game.
Stacey Griffel finished with 24 assists for the Bulldogs, while King also paid tribute to Krystal Gladden's 10 kills and three blocks.
"She's probably averaging six or seven blocks and eight or 10 kills a match," King said of Gladden. "That's because she comes out and works so hard in every practice and every game.
"She's just so workmanlike."
Meanwhile, Whannell was happy with the life her four freshmen injected into the match.
Lauren Sennette had seen varsity time this year, but Mikala Smith, Kaylee Wilbanks and Kennedy saw their first extended varsity action.
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