The Nikiski High School volleyball team showed plenty of spunk in a losing effort Saturday, pulling within three points of forcing a fifth game after dropping the first two games of a District 3/3A match at home against Houston.
The good news for the Bulldogs? Nikiski is very likely to face the same Hawks when the district championship tournament opens Thursday in Seward, and the Bulldogs certainly had given themselves an opportunity to win Saturday against Houston.
"Both teams played pretty enthusiastic volleyball," said Nikiski coach Bruce King. "We played pretty good, and we practiced well this week, so we're very positive going into regions."
The Bulldogs downed Susitna Valley in three games Friday to finish the regular season with a 4-12 overall record. As has often been proved in the past, records don't mean much once district play begins, and the Bulldogs have improved dramatically since first stepping on the court this season.
"We've improved tremendously," said Nikiski's Rainy Reilly. "It's been an incline all the way through -- we haven't plateaued at all."
Reilly also said that the Bulldogs haven't had any problems with anyone giving up this season -- a trait that was evident in Saturday's match.
After dropping the first game 15-13 and the second game 15-11, the Bulldogs clawed back for a 15-10 win in the third game.
Ashley Goff started the game with an ace serve for the Bulldogs, and Jamie Peterson served for five straight points, getting kills from Reilly and Krystal Gladden during the run, to give the Bulldogs a 10-3 lead.
Houston cut Nikiski's lead to three points, 13-10, late in the game, but a big serve by Sam Calderwood gave the Bulldogs a 14-10 lead. After trading several sideouts, Goff won the serve for the Bulldogs with a kill from the back row, and Samantha Roofe served for the game, getting a kill from Peterson to cap the rally.
"Our defense is playing the best right now," Reilly said of the Bulldogs' strength. "We (worked on defense) at the beginning of the season. Now we've been working on offense. We've been working on that quite a bit at practice -- back row attacks, front row attacks, off-speed hits and hits down the line."
The Bulldogs found themselves in a 10-5 hole in the fourth game, but pulled to within a point on four straight service points by Calderwood -- a kill by Roofe won the serve for the Bulldogs, and another Roofe kill won a point during the run.
Nikiski tied the game at 11 on a pair of serves by Roofe, but the Bulldogs couldn't grab the lead and force a fifth game.
"It's still fun," Reilly said. "It's not getting frustrating. It is sad that this was our last home game and we couldn't pull through."
Reilly said the Bulldogs had finally adjusted to the loss of setter Liz Golia and started jelling as a team -- just in time for the end of the season.
"We're working well with what we have," Reilly said.
In Friday's game, the Bulldogs defeated the Su Valley Rams 15-6, 15-6, 15-9.
Seward 3, Susitna Valley 0
Seward 3, Houston 0
The Seahawks tuned up for hosting next weekend's District 3/3A tournament by sweeping a pair of district matches on their home floor.
Seward finished the regular season at 16-1 overall, and finished district play at 12-0.
Friday, Seward topped Houston 15-3, 15-9 and 16-14. Saturday, the Seahawks topped Su Valley 15-6, 15-7 and 15-4.
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