The Soldotna High School volleyball team gave its four seniors a fine send-off Tuesday evening.
Not only did Gretta Besse, Toni Gilbert, Danielle Kerrone and Alecia Malchoff get some flowers and a hug before the match, but their teammates pulled together to defeat the visiting Kenai Central Kardinals in three games, 15-7, 15-10 and 15-2, in a Region III/4A match.
"It was our last time playing volleyball in this gym," Kerrone said following the match. "We won our last game here -- it meant a lot."
Game one went back and fourth before Malchoff stepped to the service line and, with the score tied at five, served for a pair of points to get the Soldotna attack rolling.
Hillary Zobeck won a side-out for the Stars with a big hit off the Kenai block and served for four straight points.
Kenai got a point back on Holly McCune's serve, but Gilbert added a point on her serve to make it 12-6, the beneficiary of a quick-set and hit worked by Kathryn Backer and Besse.
Becker served out the game, getting two points with serves that Kenai had trouble receiving and another on a Zobeck kill.
Soldotna built a 9-2 lead in game two thanks to three service points by Becker, one from Zobeck, two from Gilbert and three more from Becker. The Stars were winning points at the net, substituting well-placed tips for big hits and digging everything that the Kardinals could throw at them.
"I thought both teams played great defense," said Soldotna coach Ron Becker. "Both teams picked up a lot of balls. There were a lot of blocks and a lot of opportunities for our coverage to do its job."
Kenai clawed back into game two with strong serves by Laura Rhyner, Jamie Montgomery, Erica Shinn and Amy Fisher, pulling to within three points (13-10) late in the game.
Montgomery, Kenai's setter, caught Soldotna off-guard by playing the ball over the net with Kenai's second touch on occasion while Shinn and Erin Smith came up with blocks for Kardinals points.
Soldotna halted Kenai's momentum with a kill by Rachel Besse, though, and Kerrone served the final two points of the game. Zobeck gave the Stars a two games to none lead in the match with a smash off the Kenai block.
"What was neat from my perspective was that we played better as the match went on," coach Becker said. "This was one of the first times all year that I could feel the girls were ready to go even before we stepped on the court."
Soldotna kept rolling through game three. Becker served the Stars to a 4-1 lead, Gretta Besse added a point from the service line and Zobeck served for seven points to give the Stars a commanding 12-1 advantage.
Kenai scrambled to stay in the match, but Gretta Besse notched a point from the service line and Becker served out the match, getting the final point on a Rachel Besse kill.
"That was the best game we played as a team the entire season, even though the score doesn't speak to it," said Kenai coach Vanessa Gabel. "There were a lot of long, hard-fought rallies."
The Kardinals fall to 2-7 in the region, while the Stars improve to 7-2 in region play. Both teams have one region game remaining this weekend against Wasilla.
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