Kenai's Hannah Delaney spikes the ball to Skyview in the first of five games at KCHS on Friday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
There's two sides to losing the best attacking player on a volleyball team due to injury. On one hand, the team pulls together because everybody knows there is a huge hole to fill. On the other hand, when it comes down to crunch time, it hurts to have that player on the bench.
The host Kenai volleyball team showed both sides of losing a key player on Friday in a 21-25, 25-21, 20-25, 25-12, 15-5 victory over Northern Lights Conference foe Skyview.
The Kardinals lost Kyla Steward, who coach Jason Diorec said is the best attacking player on the team and one of only two seniors, to injury at the Dimond-Service Invitational. Diorec said Steward's ankle sprain is bad enough that she may be out for the year.
Faced with the loss of Steward, Kenai didn't crumple. In fact, Diorec said the Kardinals played their best match of the season.
"Kenai played the best I've seen them play all year," said Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid. "With all their hustle and work, they deserved to win."
Skyview's Jaci Lamborn meets the ball in game two of five against Kenai at Kenai on Friday night.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The biggest reason Kenai didn't win was Skyview junior Melissa Massey, who finished with 23 kills and three block kills. According to Kupferschmid, Skyview, which finished 5-5 in the NLC, needed a victory to stay in the hunt for the No. 2 seed at the conference tournament. Homer ultimately clinched that seed with a 25-13, 25-18, 14-25, 25-14 victory on Friday in Kodiak, but nobody knew that when the Kardinals and Panthers were battling it out.
With the pressure on in the fifth game, Massey rose to the occasion. She had five kills and a block kill in the game. Appropriately, she ended the game with a bullet serve for which Kenai had no answer.
"I anticipated that she was the one they were going to go to," said Kenai coach Jason Diorec, whose team fell to 0-9 in the NLC. "That's what I would do. If we would have had Kyla, we would have went to her."
Kupferschmid called Massey the difference-maker in the match.
"She played as a freshman so she has the experience," Kupferschmid said. "When the pressure was on, she carried the team."
Kupferschmid said the pressure of gunning for a No. 2 seed definitely affected her team on Friday. Skyview came out shaky in many facets of the game and Kenai led the whole way in taking the first game. The Panthers missed five serves in the game.
"Both our passing and serve-receive were off," Massey said. "When those things aren't working, you can't hit very well."
At the same time, Kenai was gaining confidence.
"All this week, we were basically doing self-inventory," Diorec said. "We knew we would all have to pick it up."
Diorec said he told his players that defense would become even more important with the loss of Steward. His players responded on Friday, and Diorec said libero Britt Kiser led the charge. The coach said Ronni Sounart played an invaluable role as the only senior on the floor, while Kristi Louthan and Taylor Matson picked up their blocking.
In the second game, Skyview gradually accumulated a 20-12 lead, but the Kardinals showed they weren't going anywhere by coming back to make it 24-21 before Massey ended the game with a block kill.
In the third game, neither team had led by more than four points when the score was knotted at 20. At that point, Skyview had five straight hitting errors to move Kenai one game closer to an upset.
Skyview responded to the challenge in the fourth game. Casee Penrod had eight service points for a 9-2 lead. After Kenai cut the gap to 12-8, Candace Penrod ran off four service points for a 17-9 edge as Skyview cruised into the fifth game.
"We came out with a different look," Massey said of Skyview's late success. "We tried some different sets in the middle and it seemed to work a lot better."
Brittany Meyer had 12 kills for Skyview, while Jessie Bilderback had 11 digs and was 12 of 14 on serve-receive, Candace Penrod had 16 assists, Casee Penrod had four kills and four assists, Jaxson Hill had eight kills and two block kills and Jaci Lamborn had three kills. Kupferschmid said Casee Penrod did a good job when she was forced to set, and said Hill had a great game at the net.
Diorec said Hannah Delaney led the team in kills and captain Mariah Huhndorf had 24 points on serve and also showed strong leadership. He also said swing players like Lexi Beeson came up and filled holes that had opened due to injury.
"This is a young group, and I've been pushing them hard because of their inexperience," Diorec said. "Now that they've got experience under their belt, the next thing is confidence."
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