The Soldotna High School volleyball team certainly was reaching for the Stars at the Region III/4A Championship at Kenai Central High School.
The Stars came back from Friday's semifinal loss to eventual tournament champion Wasilla to defeat Kodiak in three games (15-1, 15-9, 15-5) Saturday morning, but their hopes for clinching a state berth were dashed Saturday evening in a three-game loss to Palmer.
"They're all tough," Soldotna coach Ron Becker said of the Stars' roller-coaster day. "The winning's tough, the losing's tough."
"We left it all on the court," said Soldotna's Gretta Besse. "We gave it everything we had."
Palmer jumped out to a quick lead in game one as Emily Sakis served for seven straight points to open the match, mixing in three aces along the way. The run set the tone for the Moose, who mixed up some strong serves with some impressive play in the front row, particularly from Lisa Thomas.
"I think they just had more attacks than we did. They hit the ball more often," Becker said. "I think that's because they passed the ball a little bit better. That's what volleyball's all about. If you can pass the ball, you can attack."
"Lisa's intimidating in the middle, and a lot of times (opposing hitters) think too much," said Palmer coach Steve Reynolds.
Palmer won game one 15-7, took game two 15-5 and was up 11-5 in game three when Soldotna mounted a late rally.
Kathryn Becker sparked the rally with a tip that fell for a side-out, and Hillary Zobeck finished off three consecutive rallies with punishing hits for kills.
"Zobeck was really pounding the ball, which she hadn't done too much of in the first two games," Reynolds said.
Rachael Besse kept the run going, coming up with two blocks in one rally to get another point, and Palmer's return of Danielle Kerrone's fifth serve of the run went long, pulling the Stars to within a point.
Palmer scored two points on Rhonda Ray's serve, making it a 13-10 Moose lead.
Toni Gilbert served for a point for the Stars, but the Moose had Soldotna's back against the wall when they notched point No. 14.
With Kerrone back the service line, Zobeck notched another kill, pulling the Stars within two (14-12). Zobeck struck again for back-to-back kills several side-outs later, earning her team a side-out and point No. 13. Rachael Besse followed that with an ace to tie the game at 14.
"I think we realized that it was now or never," Gretta Besse said.
Palmer regained its lead when a Soldotna hit went long, though, and after trading side-outs, Thomas finished the match off from the service line for the Moose.
"I guess we came together a little too late," Gilbert said. "We played our best. I think we did a good job of being ready. We just couldn't pull it together."
"It's tough to come up a little short of what you were dreaming about," Becker said.
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