Owning a 2-0 lead in a non-conference match-up against visiting Nikiski on Tuesday, Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid figured it was the ideal time to mix things up.
So, for the first time all season, she inserted junior Jessie Bilderback, wearing the lone white jersey on the court, into the game as the libero.
The move certainly paid off, but not quite how Kupferschmid figured it would.
Bilderback didn't allow her coach to test her in the new position as she rattled off 16 consecutive serves, only four of which actually made it back over the net, in propelling the Panthers to a lopsided 25-9 victory in the third game after capturing the first two games by the scores of 26-24.
"I couldn't really get an opportunity to look at her at the libero because it happened so fast," Kupferschmid said. "That's a good thing."
Bilderback's no stranger to successful serving, though, as she went 19-of-20 from behind the line when Skyview (6-3) won a three-game match at Nikiski (4-7) only 11 days ago.
"She's worked a lot on her serving and has put in a lot of reps throughout her volleyball career. It's starting to pay off now," Kupferschmid said. "That won't happen every night but we'll take it when it does."
The Panthers definitely required it on Tuesday.
In desperate need of a spark after escaping the first two games with tight wins that could have gone either way, Bilderback provided it and more.
Owning an 8-7 edge, Bilderback who was 23-of-24 serving stood behind the line and glanced in her coach's direction, seeking a signal that would tell her where to place the serve.
After picking up that point when her serve wasn't returned, she didn't appear to need any more guidance.
Mixing between rockets and lobs that seemed to confound Nikiski's defense, Bilderback turned a one-point lead into a 23-7 advantage while picking up three aces along the way, all of them easily lobbed into the center of the Bulldogs' side before ultimately hitting the ground.
Skyview then surrendered a pair of points before picking up two straight to finish the match.
"I'll look over at (Kupferschmid) and behind her clipboard, she'll give me a zone ... and she normally looks where the players are," Bilderback explained. "Sometimes I can hit and sometimes I can't. But (Tuesday) I think I hit it pretty good.
"I was kind of surprised I served that ... I just didn't expect it."
The Panthers, on the other hand, probably didn't expect such a strong defensive showing from the Bulldogs, who came within a point of winning the first game and were two points away from taking Game 2.
"We just need to learn to finish a game and finish it strong and not let a team get into the match," said first-year Nikiski coach Sharon Thompson. "It's a heartbreaker but they played an awesome two games. That third game is not Nikiski volleyball. We had a lot of mental errors."
Following six ties and seven lead changes, the Bulldogs rallied from 15-11 and 19-14 deficits, the second time running off six consecutive points, one a strong kill into space by junior Rachel Romans and another a solid serve into a vacant area by sophomore Hillary Bogard, in taking a 20-19 lead.
Both teams continued to battle, trading points to a 23-all tie before sophomore Maddie Knoll gave the Bulldogs a 24-23 edge by driving her serve straight into open space on Skyview's side.
Nikiski couldn't finish the game off, however, as the Panthers knotted it at 24-24 and junior Melissa Massey (nine kills, three digs) recorded back-to-back kills for the win.
The second game was similar as Skyview jumped out to a 13-9 lead but quickly gave that up as the Bulldogs tied the game with four straight points.
The Panthers then answered with four of their own, but Nikiski gathered even more steam, scoring seven consecutive points, many occurring after diving, one-handed digs and over-the-head sets, for a 20-17 lead. Once again, though, they were unable to hold on as the Panthers knotted it at 21-21 and never trailed again while winning the game on an unforced error by Nikiski and one of junior Brittany Meyer's seven kills.
"Any team can really beat any team on a given night. Especially when teams are playing as good a defense as (Nikiski)," Kupferschmid said. "It's something that we're trying to improve in. The defense, it's the key to wins. We'll continue to go back. I wasn't pleased with our defense (Tuesday)."
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