After a loss due to emotion, the Kenai Central volleyball team stormed to an emotional victory on Saturday in Kenai in nonconference action.
The Kardinals topped Nikiski 23-25, 25-16, 25-16 and 25-21 as both teams wrapped up their regular seasons.
Kenai honored seniors Lexi Beeson, Lierin Flanagan, Mariah Huhndorf, Deandra Latz, Cassy Shire, Molly Copple and Jenna Thomas before the game.
With the emotion from the ceremony still fresh, Nikiski jumped to a 21-16 lead in the first game.
"With the emotion of honoring seven seniors, we gave away three or four points early in the match," Kenai coach Michelle Borland said after her team picked up its third nontournament victory of the year.
Of course, it wasn't all Kenai's emotion. Borland said Nikiski is a solid club that had defeated the Kardinals earlier in the season.
"I think we were all nervous because it was senior night and our last home game and we hadn't beaten Nikiski yet," Beeson said. "That made it very hard."
Flanagan gave Kenai a shot by serving out six straight points to give the Kards a 23-21 lead, but the Bulldogs answered.
After earning a side-out, the Bulldogs scored the last three points of the game on serves by Savannah Griffel. Maddy Knoll had kills on two of the final three points.
"We used the first game as a warmup," Huhndorf said. "We told each other, 'That first game was a warmup. Let's go ahead and take the next three.'"
The Kardinals quickly took control of the match in the second game, jumping out to an 8-2 lead. Four of the eight points came on Nikiski hitting errors.
"They just lost focus and energy," Nikiski coach Amber Oliva-Douglas said of her squad. "I'm not entirely sure why that happened. But as long as we get it back for next week, it doesn't matter."
In the second game, Thomas served out six straight points for a 17-4 lead. Nikiski was unable to get four of those serves back over the net.
Beeson and Huhndorf said the Kardinals served out-of-bounds too many times, but Kenai's serve served as a nice weapon.
"They were not serving any harder than usual," Oliva-Douglas said. "We just were not getting under the ball."
According to Borland, Kenai made some adjustments with its block and defense after the first game. The moves paid off as Hillary Bogard and Kassi Johnson found kills hard to get.
Bogard and Johnson each had five kills in the first game, but Bogard ended the match with 11 kills while Johnson had eight.
Kenai continued to dominate in the third game as Huhndorf gave the Kardinals a 6-0 lead with her serve. Later in the game, a nasty run of jump-serving by Flanagan gave Kenai four straight points and an 18-6 lead.
The early part of the fourth game featured a battle of cousins Bogard and Huhndorf. Bogard served Nikiski to a 2-0 lead, but Huhndorf came back with five service points for a 6-2 edge. Kenai would keep that narrow edge for the rest of the game.
Huhndorf has started at setter for the Kardinals for four years. She said this is the first time she can remember topping the Bulldogs in nontournament play. Making the victory sweeter is that Huhndorf was a Nikiski student until switching to Kenai in the seventh grade.
"My cousin is on Nikiski, and they've beaten us every year, so I'm happy," Huhndorf said. "I kind of feel bad for her, though, because she's a senior too."
Beeson led the Kardinals with 11 kills, while Allie McGahan had six kills and Deandra Latz had five kills. Huhndorf hit on 17 of her 18 serves.
The Kardinals, who also topped Homer 25-16, 25-23 and 25-20 on Friday, have momentum going into the Northern Lights Conference tournament on Thursday in Wasilla. Borland said Latz also had a great match against Homer.
"I really feel like it's been a long season and we worked really hard with our eye on the region tournament," Borland said. "We're feeling really good as we head up to regions next weekend in Wasilla."
Bogard had 46 digs for the Bulldogs, while Johnson added 37 digs. Minna Bogard had five assists, while Kinsey Martin had five blocks and Maggie Braun had four blocks.
Oliva-Douglas said the highlight of the match was the blocking of Martin and Braun. Nikiski had a season-high 13 blocks.
That blocking led to solid defense, which wasn't the problem on Saturday.
"Unforced errors were what killed us," Oliva-Douglas said.
Nikiski will host the Southcentral Conference tournament on Friday and Saturday.
Soldotna finishes undefeated regular season
Visiting Soldotna defeated Homer 25-13, 25-12, 23-25 and 25-16 to finish 16-0 in nontournament play and 10-0 in the Northern Lights Conference.
Shana Powell had 19 kills and three aces for the Stars while Mariah Hamilton had six kills.
Becca Satethite led with nine digs, while Megan Hardy had eight and Lydia Forbes added six. Emily Rohloff had 25 assists, while Hardy had six.
Lydia Forbes bombed nine aces, while Rohloff had four and Satethite added three.
Soldotna earns the top seed from the Southern Division for the NLC tournament starting in Wasilla on Thursday.
The Stars will play Kodiak, which finished 4-6 in the conference and is the No. 4 seed out of the Northern Divison.
Skyview splits in Kodiak
The visiting Panthers won on Friday 25-19, 25-10 and 25-19 before losing the conference match Saturday by scores of 14-25, 24-26, 25-19, 25-21 and 15-13.
Kodiak finishes 4-6 in the conference, while Skyview is 5-5.
Friday was a Dig Pink match -- Skyview's second of the year. Kodiak had already raised $2,600 for the Side-Out Foundation before the match. Jaxon Hill had a match-high 12 kills for the Panthers.
Skyview will be the No. 2 seed from the Southern Division when the NLC tournament commences on Thursday in Wasilla.
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