The Soldotna volleyball team has seen how low it can go. Now, it would like to find out how high it can go.
Fueled by senior night and the ever-bubbling Soldotna-Kenai rivalry, the host Stars played inspired volleyball in dismissing the Kardinals 15-10, 15-4 and 15-6 in Region III/4A action Thursday night.
"Our thing was we were saying that we'd already hit rock bottom," said Soldotna senior Haley Smith, who had six kills and two kill blocks. "We couldn't go down any further, so it was about time we got up. And we did."
Smith said Soldotna had been turning in lackluster performances recently, and said a three-game sweep at the hands of Dimond last Friday particularly stood out in her mind.
"This whole season, we've been losing games that we should not have," said Smith, whose team is now 5-2 in the region and 7-6 overall. "It's been terrible.
"Tonight, we finally played to our level."
Earlier in the season, the Stars had taken five games to dispose of the Kardinals. Thursday's match provided no such drama.
"I wish we could have given them a better game," said Kenai coach Tamra Wear. "We had energy at the beginning and at the end, but we didn't have energy through the whole thing."
Both teams started out the match serving rocks, but Soldotna was able to maintain its solid serving and get its serve-receive together, while the Kardinals never did get a handle on the serves of the Stars.
In the first game, Kenai didn't return nine of Soldotna's serves, while the Stars failed to return six of the Kardinals' serves.
In the second game, five Soldotna serves never made it back over the net, while the Stars were able to return all of the Kards' serves.
In the third game, eight Soldotna serves never made it back over the net, while five Kenai serves never made it back over the net.
The Stars missed just three serves all evening, while Kenai missed six.
"When we serve really well, obviously the game gets a lot more intense," Soldotna coach Pako Whannell said. "We haven't really been on with our serve lately."
Never was the Soldotna serve more on than in the beginning of the third game. Senior Hillary Zobeck, who had nine aces, five kills and two kill blocks, served out the first eight points of the game. On six of those serves, Kenai never got the ball back over the net.
But the thing that has Whannell most excited is the team's recent upswing in effort.
"One night in practice last week, we only had a little time left so we were going to scrimmage to seven points," Whannell said. "It ended up being 18-20 because no one wanted to give up.
"That's the type of effort I was waiting for."
The key for Soldotna will be sustaining that effort through the rest of the season. Thursday, the motivation was easy -- a match against Kenai and the seniors' final match at home.
"Last time we played Kenai, we barely pulled it out in five games," Smith said. "We knew we had to get our acts together tonight, or we'd get our butts kicked again."
Added Soldotna senior Ashley Duwe: "It was our last home game and it meant so much to us. We all wanted it really bad. We should play like this all of the time."
Duwe had three aces for the Stars, while Soldotna also got two aces from senior Lauren Christensen, five kill blocks and eight kills from senior Rachel Besse, one kill from senior Christa Martin and 12 assists from Stacey Foster.
Kenai had three kills, eight digs, an ace and a block from Angelica Carreon and five assists, two kills, a dig and a block from Hailey Wisniewski.
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