The Nikiski High School volleyball team opened the District 3/3A Championships in fine fashion Thursday at Seward, defeating the Houston Hawks in five games.
The Hawks took the first game 15-12, but the Bulldogs responded with a 15-11 win in game two. The third game went to the Hawks in extra points, 16-14, but the Bulldogs finished off the match with two straight wins, 15-4 and 15-9.
In other first-round matches, Heritage Christian School defeated Anchorage Christian Schools in three games, 15-12, 15-4, 15-9, and Grace Christian defeated Susitna Valley in three games, 15-9, 15-5, 15-6.
Nikiski's Samantha Calderwood had a big game from the service line to put away game two, stepping to the line with the Bulldogs down 11-9 and serving six straight points for the win.
In the third game, Jamie Peterson served five straight points to tie the game at 14, but Houston's next server was able to notch two points to give the Hawks a 2-1 edge.
Ashley Goff finished off game four with five straight points from the service line, and the Bulldogs were able to win the match by earning a couple of points here and a couple more there in the decisive fifth game.
The propels the Bulldogs to today's semifinal match against the host Seward Seahawks. As the district's top seed, the Seahawks drew a bye through the first round.
HEAD:Nikiski gets past Houston
BYLINE1:By JEFF HELMINIAK
Playing hurt, Palmer middle hitter Emily Sakis put a hurt on Kenai Central Thursday in the opening round of the Region III/4A Volleyball Tournament at Skyview High School.
Getting 16 kills and five blocks from Sakis, the Moose topped the Kardinals 16-14, 15-10, 10-15 and 15-7 to advance to today's semifinals.
Palmer, the top seed from the Northern Division, will play Homer in the semifinals at 5 p.m. today, while Kenai, the No. 4 seed from the Southern Division, will face Kodiak at 1 p.m. today in the consolation bracket.
Homer, the No. 2 seed from the south, notched a 15-9, 15-7, 16-14 victory over Kodiak, No. 4 from the north, Thursday.
In the Palmer game, Sakis aggravated an injured left ankle just three plays into the game.
Palmer coach Steve Reynolds calls Sakis his team's go-to player, and without the talented senior Kenai jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first game before Sakis re-entered.
"She's been hampered with that for a while," Reynolds said of Sakis' ankle injury. "She just hangs in there with it.
"She's tough. She'll be out there dragging that foot around if she has to. This late in the season, it's hard to find the time you need to recover."
However, Sakis and her team were able to recover from the 5-1 lead Kenai had when Sakis came back into the game.
Kenai had a 12-10 lead after Lenora John streaked a serve over the net for which Palmer had no answer. However, Palmer's Jayme Irvine followed with some strong serving of her own to put the Moose up 14-12.
Kenai's Charity Christensen followed with two unreturnable serves to knot the game at 14, but Sakis closed the game by serving out two points. One was on an unreturnable serve. The final point came on a kill by Megan Tompkins.
In the second game, Palmer appeared poised to take a much less tense path to victory, opening with an 11-4 lead.
However, Kenai's Angelica Carreon brought the Kardinals within 11-8 with four straight serves the Moose couldn't return. The Kards then made it 11-9 off a kill by Crystal Morris.
"She's got that top-spin serve that other teams are not used to seeing," Kenai coach Tamra Wear said of Carreon. "It usually gives the other team some trouble."
Palmer recovered to win four of the next five points and take game two.
In the third game, with the score tied at 7, Carreon and Christensen both got hot, combining to record seven kills and an ace as Kenai took the game 15-10.
"Carreon's a great player," Reynolds said. "She gets up there, sees which way the block is going, and hits the other way.
"We've got some great middle hitters in this region."
In the fourth game, Sakis reasserted control of the match, opening with five kills as the Moose took a 5-0 lead. Kenai never recovered in the 15-7 loss.
For Palmer, Jessie Macknicki added six kills, six digs and six aces, while Brianna Johnson had 12 assists.
For Kenai, Carreon had 16 kills, 10 digs, four aces, a block and an assist; Ally deMello had 13 digs, 30 assists and two aces; Christensen had nine digs, eight kills, six aces and a block; and Morris had nine digs and eight kills.
Homer 3, Kodiak 0
The Mariners also came into the region tournament as the No. 2 seed from the south last year, but lost their first two games.
"Last year, we came out at this tournament and fizzled," Homer coach Beth Trowbridge said. "Some of our best players this year were our best players last year, so there was some concern about that this year.
"But this year we've been steady all year, but we've also worked and gotten a lot better over the course of the season."
Chelsea Ward and Holly McCune are two of the players Homer relied heavily on last year, and relies heavily on this year.
Both made sure there would be no similar region disappointment Thursday. Ward had 18 kills, five solo blocks and one assist. McCune, playing on a tender ankle, added eight kills.
Trowbridge also was happy with the play of Chrissy Eller, who added six kills, and the setting of Sara Thompson.
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