With nothing to lose, the Soldotna volleyball team proved pretty hard to beat.
The Stars avenged a five-game loss to Kenai Central earlier this year with a 9-15, 15-10, 2-15, 15-9 and 15-7 victory over the visiting Kardinals Thursday night.
"I told them coming in that this was near the end of the season and we had nothing to lose," Soldotna coach Pako Whannell said.
Whannell said that attitude allowed her team to serve more aggressively, racking up 16 team aces, and to play more aggressively on defense.
In the first three games, the nothing-to-lose attitude produced mixed results. Soldotna was able to take game two, but looked to be on the ropes when Kenai won game three 15-2 to put the Stars in a 2-1 hole.
"We took them to five games last time, so we knew we could play with them," said Hillary Zobeck, who had 15 kills and four kill blocks in the match. "We wanted a fifth game this time. We weren't going to lose in four games."
With Tabitha Strauss serving out three of the points, the Stars jumped to a 5-0 lead in the fourth game. Kenai fell into an even bigger hole when Stacey Foster served six straight points to stake Soldotna to an 11-1 lead. Zobeck had three kills during the stretch.
"The way some of the team played tonight even surprised me," Whannell said. "Stacey was one of them. She's a freshman, so she's a little tentative in the leadership role, but it's thrust on her because she's the setter.
"Tonight, she showed a lot of aggressiveness going for the ball."
Foster was just one of many Stars who turned the match around in the fourth game with solid passing. Another one was Marcella Tabor.
"I saw her making solid passes in the junior varsity game, so I figured I'd give her a shot on varsity since we sometimes struggle with our passing," Whannell said.
The coach said before Thursday Tabor had struggled with learning the defensive system, but Zobeck gave Tabor credit for being one of the unsung heroes that turned the match around.
Another unsung hero was Bruce King, a former assistant for the Nikiski volleyball team. King has worked with the Stars the past two weeks on footwork, and Whannell said the improvement was evident Thursday night.
"We've really improved our passing," said Rachel Besse, who had 14 kills and seven block kills in the match. "We've been working on it constantly in practice and it's starting to show."
Soldotna went on to win the fourth game 15-7.
"There are certain points in a match where we get all excited and play really well together as a team," Zobeck said. "That happened in the fourth game. We just wanted to keep it going in the fifth game."
The Stars fell behind 2-0 on a kill by Kenai's Erica Shinn, but Zobeck gave the Stars the lead for good with four straight service points. Strauss then began to put the match out of reach when her four straight points pushed the score to 9-2. Kenai would never recover from that deficit.
"Our record doesn't show where we are as a team," Whannell said. "We've lost a lot of close matches. I want to show we're an improved team at regions."
Soldotna will host Wasilla tonight at 6:30 p.m. The Stars then host Houston Saturday at 11 a.m.
Kenai will play host to Houston tonight at 5:45 p.m. before facing off with Wasilla at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
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