The Kenai Central volleyball team created a non-Newtonian twist to the cliche "What goes up, must come down" Friday night.
The Kardinals' twist? What goes down, must come back up.
Thursday night, Kenai looked to be on its way to a Region III victory when it took a 2-1 lead on rival Soldotna by taking game three 15-2. However, Kenai's passing collapsed and Soldotna stormed back to take the match in five games.
Friday, the Kardinals' passing was, for the most part, smooth and the Kardinals enjoyed a similarly unbumpy ride to a 15-4, 15-4 and 15-7 nonconference victory over visiting Houston.
"We're so much of an up-and-down team," Kenai Central coach Vanessa Gabel said. "We were down last night, so it only made sense that we'd be up and ready to play tonight."
Also boding well for the Kardinals being up, and not down, was the celebration of Senior Night. Although Kenai's last home game was a Saturday loss against Wasilla, the Kardinals had a send-off Friday because attendance is better on a Friday night than a Saturday morning.
Honored were Amy Fischer, Erica Shinn, Kamilla Goggia, Laura Rhyner, Shamra Bauder and Elisha Smith.
Kenai served and hit successfully against the Hawks, but ultimately the Kardinals seniors went out winners due to passing.
"Our passing was poo-dog against Soldotna," said Kenai junior co-captain Crystal Morris. "We passed a lot better today, and that allows us to play our game.
"Passing is the foundation."
When Kenai passes well, Fischer, the setter, looks better because she can jump-set and put less air under her sets. In turn, big boppers like Rhyner and Shinn can unload on hastily set up blocks and scrambling defenses. Shinn had 11 kills Friday, while Rhyner added nine.
When Rhyner and Shinn are hitting successfully, Kenai becomes a dangerous team because it always serves tough. Gabel accepts it when the Kardinals miss 10 percent of their serves because, normally, 20 to 30 percent of Kenai's serves aren't returned by the opposition.
Morris was particularly tough on serve Friday. In game three, she served out the last nine points of the match. On four of those points, like an outfielder on Randy Johnson's team, the Kardinals didn't have to lift a finger because the Hawks never returned the ball over the net.
"We had some zestiness on our serves tonight," Morris said. "When our coach signaled us to, we would drop them short just to keep them off balance. Other than that, we were picking on their weak passers."
With tough serving and hitting, Kenai can be a scary team. But it must pass well, and Friday the Kardinals received steady passing from players like Bauder and Goggia.
"Shamra Bauder is real solid in the back row for us with serve-receive and defense," Gabel said. "She also can place her serve pretty well."
The question looming before Gabel and the Kardinals is, why couldn't they have passed so well Thursday night?
"If I knew, I would have changed it and we would have started passing better in the fifth game," Gabel said. "Volleyball is 90 percent mental. This team has shown it can turn it around from day to day.
"We just have to find a way to do that during the match."
Saturday, Kenai was able to take a game one 17-15 off the Warriors, but Wasilla stormed back for 15-1, 15-3 and 15-9 victories. Kenai will be the No. 3 seed from Region III's Southern Division at the region tourney beginning Thursday.
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