A little bit of adversity can be a good thing -- it can help a team develop character and learn how to perform under pressure.
But a lot of adversity? With just a week until the District 3/3A tournament? Could that be a good thing?
The Nikiski High School volleyball team answered that question Saturday with a three-game sweep of visiting district opponent Grace Christian.
Saturday's win came after the Bulldogs dropped a nondistrict match to Kodiak 15-10, 8-15, 3-15, 11-15 Thursday and defeated Barrow in a nondistrict play 15-7, 15-2, 15-3 Friday.
"The word for the week was adversity," said Nikiski coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen. "I believe in the fact that everything works together for a good reason. Because of this, we're going to be a better team."
The adversity Hobart-Verkuilen was referring to was the absence of two of her key players. Her setter is out sick while another stalwart had a family commitment Outside.
In the scramble to fill those holes, the Bulldogs discovered that they could do just fine with Lyndsy Pritchard and Kassie Thomson filling the setter role, thanks to some good teamwork all the way around the court.
"I'm really pleased with the kids I had to put in stressful situations in positions they're not used to," Hobart-Verkuilen said.
The Bulldogs had no problem playing the hand they were dealt against Grace, taking game one 15-9, winning game two 15-11 and closing out the match with a 15-9 win in the third game.
"You could tell when we were all working together -- there were less mistakes," Thomson said.
"I've never set before in my life," Pritchard said. "It was a challenge, but it was a good opportunity for me -- it prepared us for state. I don't think it could get worse. We had a rough time, but we made it through that."
Thomson said that her coach took a lot of the pressure off the Bulldogs' first-time setters, telling them not to worry too much about winning or losing.
"She was encouraging instead of stressing out," Thomson said.
The Bulldogs continued to follow the recipe that has worked for them all season, playing good defense and feeding the hitters up front, namely Mindy Cason and Karen Rabung.
"Our hitters were very understanding and very cooperative," Pritchard said. "They were able to work with every ball I was able to junk up to them."
Thomson also credited back row help from Ashley Goff, who kept involved in the play by communicating even when she wasn't playing the ball.
Samantha Roofe and Joy Carr also made contributions at key moments for the Bulldogs.
Nikiski built an early 9-4 lead in the first game before the Grizzlies were able to come back and tie the game at 9.
The Bulldogs quickly stifled Grace's momentum, though, as Roofe served six straight points to put the game away, getting kills from Cason and Carr and serving up aces for the final two points.
Nikiski led 8-1 in the second game, building its lead on six straight service points by Thomson. Thomson hit a pair of aces while Cason had two kills and two blocks during the run.
Nikiski's Joy Carr hits the ball behind Samantha Roofe Saturday in the third of three games against Grace Christian.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Grace again battled back to tie the game at 9. Nikiski scored a pair of points on Carr's serve with an ace and a kill by Rabung, but Grace kept pace to tie the game at 11.
Goff gave the Bulldogs a one-point lead with her serve, and Roofe served three points to finish up the game, notching an ace and getting a kill from Cason.
The Grizzlies forced the Bulldogs to battle from behind in the third game, taking a 4-2 lead.
Nikiski and Grace swapped leads until Goff toed the service line and served up five points -- a kill and two blocks by Cason scored three of them -- to give Nikiski a 10-6 lead.
Grace wasn't able to get any closer to the Bulldogs than three points, and Cason served three points for the match, getting two points from Rabung at the net.
"It's a big win for us," Hobart-Verkuilen said. "It gave a us a chance to work on what we needed to get ready for regions."
Nikiski will play in the District 3/3A tournament Thursday through Saturday at Heritage Christian School in Anchorage.
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