Soldotna's Dani Donaldson and Christa Kennedy dive deep to return a ball to Nikiski in the second game Thursday at SoHi.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Hannah Thompson’s float serve kept the Nikiski volleyball team afloat long enough to defeat Soldotna on Thursday in a nonconference volleyball match.
The Bulldogs shook off passing troubles and won 25-21, 19-25, 20-25, 25-17 and 15-6 to improve to 10-1 this season.
After using a top-spin jump serve for the first three games, Thompson switched to a float serve in the fourth and fifth games. The serve won five points in the fourth game, all of which came when Soldotna didn’t return the serve over the net, and three points in the pivotal fifth game.
The float serve doesn’t look like much when compared with Thompson’s top-spin jump serve. Instead of leaping into the air and extending fully, Thompson takes a hop and puts the ball into the air with an abbreviated, slow motion. The results is a ball that knuckles and dives.
“Most of the time, they were getting my top-spin serve back,” Thompson said. “I changed to the float serve because it’s a lot harder to pass.”
The service winners capped off a stellar all-around performance by Thompson, who also had 12 kills and 28 digs. Many times, she also was able to mask the troubles Nikiski had passing the ball.
“We have spent so much time on passing,” Nikiski coach Bruce King said. “I was very surprised that we passed as poorly as we did tonight.
“Some of the credit has to go to Soldotna. They have some top-spin serves that can be hard to return.”
With the attack in disarray due to poor passing, Thompson was able to at least get balls over the net that didn’t allow the Stars to immediately ramp up their attack.
“Having a player with the court savvy to send something over the net other than a free ball is a huge asset,” King said.
The Stars were without one of their setters Thursday, so Liz Rohloff had to handle all the setting. Usually, Rohloff only handles half of Soldotna’s setting duties, so the Stars had a big adjustment to make.
“I thought we attacked hard,” said Soldotna coach Pako Whannell, who received 17 kills from Paige Blackburn, eight kills from Christa Kennedy, six kills from Dani Donaldson and five kills from April Heffner. “Liz did a great job. She was setting every ball, and that’s not what she’s used to, so she had to be tired.”
In the first game, Soldotna led 21-20, but Nikiski got three of the last five points on hitting errors. The other points came on some bad passing on serve-receive by SoHi and a kill by Thompson.
Nikiski started the second game by playing tough defense, typified by the blocking of Sherra Pritchard, who finished with 13 blocks, including 11 stuff blocks, on the night.
Soldotna came back with nasty serving, as Lauren Senette had four straight points, Laura Harro had four straight points and Rohloff closed the match with five straight points. The serves also led to quality attacking opportunities that got Blackburn on a roll.
In the third game, the Stars started off passing poorly and fell behind 8-2. With the scored tied at 19, the SoHi attack went into high gear and the Stars took six of the last seven points and were one game from the match.
That was until Thompson decided to change speeds on her serve.
“It started it,” Thompson said of her float serve. “Then, we started getting big plays from everybody. Everybody picked up the intensity and we played with a lot of heart.”
Clare Bennett added six kills for the Bulldogs, while Danielle Bower had 14 digs.
“I told the girls they took a step up tonight,” Whannell said. “They played a great game against a team like Nikiski using a system they had not used in competition this year.”
Senette had four aces, Donaldson had three aces and Rohloff and Jessi Stenga had two aces apiece for the Stars.
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