Seven Soldotna senior netters took the floor for the final time in front of a home crowd Thursday, looking to keep their undefeated season alive -- and they did just that.
After losing a close first game, 25-22, Soldotna defeated its Northern Lights Conference rival Kenai Central in three straight games, 25-13, 25-19, 25-11, improving to 14-0 overall and 8-0 in conference play. The loss drops Keani to 1-11 overall and 1-9 in the NLC.
"Our floor defense was outstanding," said Stars head coach Bruce King. "We are putting a lot of pressure on teams with our serves and defense."
King said his seniors' work ethic is one factor that makes his squad so tough to defeat.
"They haven't stopped working to get better," he said. "If you're going to be a championship team, that's what you have to do."
"We all want it so bad," said SoHi senior Emily Rohloff, echoing King's remarks. "We just want to push it and keep pushing to be the best we can be. We want to keep it perfect if we can."
Four consecutive points early in the first game gave Kenai a quick 9-3 lead. Soldotna's Megan Hardy interrupted the streak with a block, but the Kardinals came right back with another four straight points.
It looked like the Kards would cruise to an easy win, but six consecutive Stars' points helped cut the lead to 15-13 in favor of Kenai. A string of three Soldotna points knotted the score at 16 apiece.
Kenai's Lierin Flanagan then hit a low serve that the Stars couldn't return, giving her team a 23-18 lead. Despite cutting the lead to two, Kenai closed out the first game with a 25-22 victory.
The second game remained close until Rohloff served four straight points to give the Stars a 16-10 lead. Once the ball was in Hardy's hands, she never gave it up.
Soldotna scored seven consecutive points, Hardy serving all of them, to take the second game 25-13.
Emily Rich scored three of those seven, including two, off-speed shots and a block. Stars senior Lydia Forbes also fooled Kenai's defense with a soft shot of her own during the streak.
"They have lots of girls and lots of options on offense," said Kards head coach Michelle Borland. She said SoHi had great saves and got to balls that most couldn't get to.
After the first game, SoHi knew what to expect from Kenai, Rohloff said. "We just kept pushing it and kept the pressure on," she said.
"Everything just went into sync," Forbes added.
"Once we get our passes in, we're hard to beat," said Stars senior Jasmine Woodland. "A good pass makes a good set, and you need a good set."
The Stars jumped out to a quick five-point lead in the third game on the back of five consecutive Rebecca Satethite serves.
The Kards put together three straight points, but a cross-court shot by Forbes ended the rally. Four successive Soldotna points gave the Stars a lead too big for Kenai to recover from.
A Lexi Beeson block brought the Kards within four, 15-11, but they never came any closer for the rest of the game. With the Stars just two points from clinching the third game, Kenai rallied, scoring five straight points.
But SoHi kept its composure and an off-speed shot by Shana Powell ended the game 25-19 in favor of the Stars.
Most of the seniors have played together for four years, making the team a tight-knit group, Roholoff said.
"We work really well together," Forbes said.
"We all know each other's strengths and weaknesses," Woodland added.
The fourth game was all Soldotna.
SoHi jumped out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back. The Stars held a sizeable lead for the rest of the game, keeping the Kards trailing by at least five points.
Holding a 15-10 lead, the Stars scored seven points in a row to all but end the game and the match. SoHi won the fourth game 25-11.
"I thought my girls played great tonight," Borland said. "We have played a close game with every team in this region. We're looking forward to that tournament."
Homer 3, Nikiski 2
The Homer Mariners defeated Nikiski 25-12, 20-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-7 in nonconference play Thursday night.
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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