Any conference tournament brings with it a roller coaster of highs and lows, and the Soldotna High School volleyball team experienced it all Saturday during the Northern Lights Conference championships.
The Stars, after dropping their opening-round match to Colony, worked their way back for a shot at a state tournament berth by defeating Kenai on Friday, and upsetting tournament host Skyview on Saturday morning.
Soldotna ran out of steam in its rematch with Colony in the third-place match Saturday afternoon, though, falling to the Knights in three games. Palmer defeated Wasilla for the championship.
"I think we're disappointed we're not going to state. On the other hand, we played our best volleyball of the season this weekend," said Soldotna coach Bruce King.
Indeed, the Stars came out firing on all cylinders against the Knights, leading the first game by as many as five points. However, the Knights chipped away at the Soldotna lead, forcing the game to extra points. Colony outlasted Soldotna for a 30-28 win.
The loss drained some of the Stars' energy, and they found it difficult to bounce back, dropping the second game 25-17.
"I think we came out really excited, but after that first game, it brought us down a little bit. It was really hard to get that energy back," said Soldotna's Heidi Westerman.
The Stars scratched their way back from an early deficit in game three, tying the game at 18 after trailing by as many as five. A big hit from Kaillee Skjold tied the game again at 20, but net play from Colony's Tess Forstner and Allison Leigh, and a couple miscues by the Stars, gave the Knights a four-point cushion. Soldotna narrowed the gap to two points before Colony was able to put the game away, 25-22, and claim the conference's third seed at the state tournament.
"SoHi is a great team. They hit the ball well, they block, and they really came to play," said Colony coach Amy Carter.
Carter said her team was forced to make some adjustments after falling behind early in the first game.
"We moved our block just a little bit, and really focused on blocking them," Carter said.
Shellina Irwin led the Knights with 15 kills along with 11 digs on defense. Forstner had nine kills and eight blocks. Mary Klapperich netted seven kills and four blocks, Leigh finished with eight kills and three blocks, and Laura Maresh came up with a dozen digs. Kathryn Mayer served up four aces.
While it hurt to fall short of a state tournament berth, the Stars left the court proud of the way they played.
"Our defense started to jell and our attack was as good as it's been all season," King said. "Except for a couple rough stretches, we passed the ball very well."
Westerman said she was proud to have played with this team, and was excited that they played their best when it counted the most.
"Our team played as hard as they could," Westerman said. "Becca (Satathite) was hitting left and right, Kaillee made some amazing digs -- every one came in and played their parts. Everyone wanted it so bad, and it all came together for us."
Westerman called the morning match with Skyview the Stars' best game of the season.
"I don't think there's a feeling that's better than that," she said of the effort.
Westerman noted quite a bit of improvement during the course of the season in a team she described as young at the start.
"Everyone got more confident. I think there was a big improvement for all of us, every single player," Westerman said.
Westerman had 15 digs, while Kaycee Munn had 13 and Woodford had nine. Jessie Duke had five blocks (two stuff), while Sydney Goggia had five blocks (four stuff).
Litchfield led with four aces, while Westerman had two. Westerman had 12 assists, while Litchfield had seven assists.
In the kills department, Becca Satathite had nine kills while Kaillee Skjold had seven, and Goggia and Munn had four kills.
Soldotna 3, Skyview 0
The Stars upset the Panthers to move to the third-place match. The scores were 25-20, 25-22 and 26-24.
"That's what tournament time brings, it brings the best out of athletes," Kupferschmid said of the Stars' effort.
Satathite had 13 digs, while Litchfield, Munn and Woodford each had 10. Goggia had seven blocks (one stuff), while Duke and Skjold each had four blocks (one stuff).
Goggia had two aces, while Westerman had 16 assists and Litchfield had 12. Satathite boomed 14 kills, while Goggia had seven and Munn and Skjold each had five.
"It was a privilege to work with my kids," Kupferschmid said, crediting Rebecca Egan with strong setting. "They had a lot of heart, and a lot of determination. They just learned a life lesson today."
Soldotna ended at 16-4.
Coach of the Year: Claudia Farias Pinard, Wasilla.
Southern Division MVP: Jaxon Hill, Skyview.
Northern Division MVP: Sariah Tuisaula, Wasilla.
First team: Jenna Arlow, Palmer; Aryn Crane, Wasilla; Shellina Irwin, Colony; Becca Satathite, Soldotna; Rebecca Egan, Skyview; Manya Wandersee, Kodiak; Eri Sugiyama, Homer; Kendal Venzke, Palmer.
Second team: Kayla Bell, Wasilla; Allie McGahan, Kenai; Samantha Oliver, Kodiak; Thit Bak, Skyview; Kylee Woodford, Soldotna; Haley Taylor, Wasilla; Morgan Morfe, Palmer; Alicia West, Skyview.
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