When Holly McCune moved from Kenai to Homer this summer, she called it the toughest decision she's ever had to make.
But when McCune returned to Kenai Thursday to face her former teammates as Mariner, she had no similar problems making up her mind.
When the Mariners trailed the Kardinals two games to none, she was still convinced Homer was going to pull out the Region III victory.
What about when Homer was down 14-9 in the fifth and deciding game? Same conviction.
"When I was playing with Kenai last season, we won the first two games against Nikiski," said McCune, who had the option of staying in Kenai with a friend after her dad moved to Homer this summer to start a business. "Nikiski came back and won the next three games.
"It was unbelievable, but I knew we could do it."
Do it the Mariners did, notching a 9-15, 11-15, 15-11, 15-11, 16-14 victory over the Kardinals behind 20 kills from McCune.
It was a breakthrough match for the junior, who had problems playing against her old team early in the season.
"She had a little mental thing playing against Kenai," said Homer coach Beth Trowbridge, whose team is now 4-4 in Region III. "You could see her getting over it each time we played them, and this weekend when we played them at Grace I told her I thought she was over it.
"She did an excellent job tonight."
Kenai coach Vanessa Gabel, whose team dropped to 3-5 in the region, also was impressed with the performance of her former player.
"She's always been a good hustler and a good hitter, but I've never seen her hit the way she did tonight," Gabel said.
Even with McCune booming kills, Homer was still in trouble after the first two games. The Kardinals have a host of players who can serve lasers from the back line, and the Mariners were having trouble returning those serves.
"We usually return serves well, but we always have a little trouble against Kenai," Trowbridge said. "They serve hard and that's intimidating. Once we get intimidated, we tense up and that adds to the problem."
In game one, junior Crystal Morris gave Kenai the upper hand by ripping off five straight service points for a 7-3 lead. In game two, Kenai took an early 5-0 lead behind five straight service points from senior Kamilla Goggia. Senior Amy Fischer then finished off Homer in the second game with three straight service points.
"W did really well serving to zones," Gabel said. "Our breakdown came in serve-receive. We sat back on our heels after winning the first two games."
Homer took advantage of the letdown in guard, taking two games to square the match. Kenai got its edge back early in the fifth game, however, taking a 10-4 lead on a kill by Angelica Carreon.
Homer began to battle back using defense. Trowbridge inserted Lindsay Horst into the game, and Trowbridge said the senior had "a phenomenal dig that lifted the team back up again."
Junior Chelsea Ward, who finished with 12 kills and seven solo blocks, also had a stuff block that McCune said was another turning point in the match. Homer cut the lead to 10-7, but Fischer responded with three service points to move the lead to 13-7, then a tough serve by Erica Shinn gave the Kardinals match point at 14-9.
Kenai would get no further than that, as Homer would deny five match points. Two came when the Kardinals put their serve out, and another two came on kills by McCune.
"I told them this is something we have to learn from," Gabel said. "Seasoned volleyball players know you can't miss two serves on match point. Not only do you lose an opportunity to win the match, but you also hand the other team momentum."
Homer's Arinda Brooks served out the last three points for Homer. One came on a stuff block by Ward, the next came on a kill from McCune, and match point came when Ward drew a net violation on Kenai.
"Sure, I was feeling pressure," McCune said of her big kills during the final points. "I just figure if you go down, you might as well go down swinging."
Both Homer, which also received 13 kills from Jess Eller, and Kenai will play at the Dimond-Service Invitational Friday and Saturday.
Wasilla 3, Skyview 0
The host Wasilla volleyball team swept Skyview in a Region III match Thursday. The scores were 15-10, 15-9 and 15-6.
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