The Nikiski High School volleyball team wrapped up its regular season on a high note, defeating the visiting Houston Hawks in three games in a District 3/3A match Friday.
The Bulldogs followed that up with a three-game win over Susitna Valley, securing the No. 3 seed behind Grace Christian and Seward for this week's district tournament hosted by Nikiski. Nikiski entered the weekend tied with Houston for third in the district standings.
"We look good," said Nikiski coach Bruce King following Friday's match. "We're coming together as a team. We're peaking at the right time."
Indeed, against Houston, the Bulldogs were able to get everyone involved in the attack as setter Stacey Griffel spread the ball around.
"She gave everybody a chance to get a swing," King said.
The Bulldogs opened the match against Houston with a 25-16 win. While the Hawks did a good job of playing defense, digging much of what the Bulldogs hit their way, Nikiski was able to find gaps in the Houston defense by attacking from different angles and using all of its hitters.
"They have an awesome defense. They're relentless," said Nikiski's Anjani Salonen. "We had to go against them with a much better offense and pound the ball as hard as we could. We tried to mix it up a lot, do some quick stuff and some stuff that would throw off their defense."
Houston took a 4-0 lead to start the second game. Nikiski pulled to within a point as Georgie Heaverley notched a kill to win the serve for the Bulldogs, and Krystal Gladden came up with a block to cut Houston's lead to 5-4.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Nikiski's Georgie Heaverley goes after the ball Friday against Houston.
Nikiski tied the game at 10 after three straight service points from Griffel, but didn't take the lead for good until another big hit from Heaverley gave the Bulldogs a 16-15 lead.
Nikiski's Saharai Thompson came up with a pair of service points, one on a kill by Hannah Thompson, to extend the Bulldogs' lead, and Nikiski maintained its advantage for a 25-21 win. Racheal Gerke earned a kill on game point.
The third game was neck-and-neck until Hannah Thompson stepped to the service line with the Bulldogs leading 10-9. She began a four-point service run with an ace and got kills from Salonen and Gladden along the way.
After losing the serve, Nikiski won it right back with a kill by Gladden, and Sasha Auldridge reeled off six straight service points to give the Bulldogs a 21-11 lead. Houston was able to cut into that lead before Hannah Thompson finished off the match with a tip for a kill and a 25-19 win.
Hannah Thompson finished with 18 digs and 11 kills for the Bulldogs while Heaverley notched 10 digs to go with eight kills.
Salonen said Houston's rally-prolonging defense made the match fun.
"We hung in there pretty tough," Salonen said. "Long rallies are what makes it so intense."
Against Susitna Valley, the Bulldogs took a 25-14, 25-10 and 25-21 victory. Griffel had four service aces to go with 19 set assists. Heaverley led the team with seven kills while Megan Best had four and Krystal Gladden recorded eight blocks.
Nikiski took a moment to say thank you to its seniors, Salonen and Best, before Friday's match.
"That's the hardest thing to me -- not graduation, but leaving the team," Best said. "I love them all. Each and every one has a special bond with us."
Nikiski, winner of six of its last eight matches, finishes the regular season with an 8-4 mark in district play and a 9-7 overall mark. The district tournament will begin Thursday in Nikiski.
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