For the Skyview High School volleyball team, distance has made the team grow closer.
"Last weekend, when we went down to Juneau, we grew as a team," said Skyview's Angel Hollers after the Panthers defeated Kenai Central High School in four games, 15-8, 9-15, 15-8, 15-9.
"It's communicating and trusting each other. Most of it is trust -- knowing there's someone there backing you up to get the tips if you're going up for a block."
Kenai came out of the gates swinging in game one as Kirsten Ehrhardt served four balls that the Panthers were unable to handle.
Kenai led 7-2 before the Panthers started clawing their way back into the game. Beth Massey served for two points, including a big hit by Hollers off the Kenai blocker. Hollers then took her turn at the service line and put the Panthers in the lead with five straight points, two of them on hits off the Kenai blockers by Amanda Bauer.
Bauer served for a pair of points herself -- the first came on a quick-hit kill by Laura Tarbox on a set by Christina Colvin -- and Colvin served out the game with three straight points.
Colvin kept that momentum going in game two as the Panthers got the jump on the Kardinals with a 5-0 lead.
Kenai's Holly McCune won a side-out to stop Colvin's service run with a block, then won the serve back for the Kardinals with a kill. Kenai's Jamie Montgomery served for two points, including a big hit from Erica Shinn, and after another exchange of side-outs, Kenai's Laura Rhyner came up with a big block to get the momentum to swing Kenai's way.
McCune's serve hit the net, but Rhyner won the serve back with a tipped ball, then went to the service line to reel off 11 straight points.
"I didn't think they were very strong serves, but they were working," Rhyner said. "I was just going for over and in."
"She was doing that to us in practice yesterday," said Kenai coach Vanessa Gabel of Rhyner's service run. "She normally doesn't serve in games, but I figured if she was serving like that in practice, she could do it in the game."
The Panthers rallied to within five points (14-9), but McCune leveled the match at a game apiece on her serve. Skyview got off a solid hit on the play, and Montgomery had all she could handle to get to the ball. Her dig went back over the net and found the floor between the Panthers' front and back rows.
Game three went back and fourth -- Kenai's McCune tied the score at seven with an ace serve -- but Colvin gave the Panthers an edge with three straight service points, the first on a block by Massey and Jenny Carpenter. After that, the Panthers never trailed. Hollers served out the game with four consecutive points.
Skyview didn't put together any big runs in the fourth game, but with a couple of points here and there, took a 7-0 lead. Massey served the final four points of the game, winning the match with an ace.
"Volleyball is a momentum game, regardless of age and skill level," Gabel said. "We're doing some catching up, but we're improving quickly. Each game, we're getting better."
Gabel was impressed with Ehrhardt's ability to read the opponent's hitters and come up with the dig, as well as her strong hitting performance. Gabel also was pleased to see Montgomery's hustle to get to every Kenai pass.
"She did a nice job turning some not OK passes into good sets," Gabel said.
While pleased with the win, Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid said there was some room for improvement.
"I'm glad to get out of here with the win," Kupferschmid said. "We didn't play our best, but we played good enough to win, and that tells me we have a good team."
"We didn't hit as much as we would have liked," Colvin said. "We're not usually a tipping team."
"We could have passed better -- that's where it all starts," Hollers said. "A good pass means a good set and a good hit. We play Houston Thursday, so we're going to pass a lot in practice (Wednesday)."
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