Fresh off back-to-back conference wins over Kodiak and Skyview this past weekend, Soldotna was hoping to carry that momentum into Game 1 of its contest with visiting Seward on Tuesday night.
But unable to control the ball and playing uncharacteristically lazy early on, the Stars never led in dropping the first game to the Seahawks.
After that, however, they never trailed again.
Senior Paige Blackburn recorded 19 kills and four blocks, junior Jessi Stenga had 20 digs and sophomore Emily Rohloff added 19 assists in leading SoHi to a come-from-behind 22-25, 25-2, 25-12, 25-15, non conference win, their eighth straight victory overall.
"We just weren't very focused, I think, in this match," said Stars' coach Bruce King. "I don't know if it was because of last weekend or because we've played Seward so many times this season or what.
"I think that (Seward) played good defense and if you don't take care of the ball on your side of the net, they'll make you pay for it," he added. "That's what happened in Game 1."
When Blackburn slammed home a kill to tie the opening game at 1-1, it appeared Soldotna would pick up where it left off Saturday when it claimed a five-game, comeback win over Skyview.
Seward, though, had other ideas.
Behind a pair of kills from Holly Ganser and timely digs by their defense, the Seahawks jumped out to a 14-7 lead. But Blackburn rejuvenated a lackluster Stars' squad with back-to-back kills as SoHi won seven of the next eight points to pull within 15-14. The Stars then eventually knotted the game at 19-19 on a point by sophomore Mariah Hamilton, but the Seahawks who have only beaten Houston this season captured six of the final nine points, including an ace by Ganser, to claim the first game.
"I've always known they have it in them," said Seward coach Jennifer McDonald. "I don't think they know it yet and they're starting to see that."
SoHi obviously knew what it was capable of.
And it showed in Game 2.
The Stars (11-1 overall) raced in front 20-1 on six points from Blackburn and three by Wilbanks and Hamilton then swatted down the final point to even the match at one game apiece.
"That second game was really ugly," McDonald said with a laugh. "They don't even want to remember it."
It was more of the same in Game 3 as Soldotna led 10-4 and then 19-9 before Wilbanks and Blackburn each picked up a pair of kills down the stretch to seal the win.
"I've coached a lot of teams against Seward and I know that they're capable of beating teams when they play good defense," King explained. "We just decided in Game 2 and on that we just need to take care of the ball on our side of the net and that would be enough to win this match."
Blackburn scored three of SoHi's first seven points of the fourth game as the Stars owned an 8-3 edge. But Seward fought back, creeping within one after four straight unforced errors by Soldotna. That would be as close as the Seahawks would get, though, as SoHi sophomore Shana Powell (10 digs) ran off four consecutive successful serves, Stenga had three in a row and sophomore Kaitlyn Wehrli, recently called up from jayvee, added a punched-over point to help finish off the contest.
Having now won eight games in a row, King said they need at least one more victory, preferably at Colony or Palmer on Friday or Saturday, respectively, to lock up the top seed in the Northern Lights Conference tournament.
"I think we've played well enough to win," he said. "We've played a lot of five-game matches, so I don't think we're dominating everyone. We've just got to come out and play hard every match.
"Winning two matches last weekend took a little bit of pressure off of us," King added. "But we are still going to have to perform against (Colony and Palmer)."
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