Using tenacity and teamwork to overcome a spirited Houston team, the Nikiski Bulldogs claimed third place and a spot in next week's state tournament at the District 3/3A volleyball tournament Saturday at Nikiski.
In a battle of two of the region's youngest teams, the Bulldogs were able to come back after dropping the first game 25-22 to a Hawks squad that hit the floor extremely fired-up.
Houston coach Bill Sieben said his team which has only two seniors on its roster made a conscious effort to come out strong against Nikiski.
"The intensity was there," Sieben said following the match. "We really came out fired up."
After going up 1-0, Sieben said he hoped his squad could keep up its intensity throughout the match. But the Hawks had no answer for an early Nikiski run in the second game, and from that point on it was tough for Houston to recover.
The momentum began to swing clearly in favor of the Bulldogs after a wild series midway through the second game that finally got the home crowd into the action.
With Houston serving, it looked as if the Hawks might be able to cut further into Nikiski's 10-6 lead. When a high Nikiski bump got tangled up in an overhanging basketball goal, it appeared as if the Hawks would win another point. But the ball rolled cleanly through the hoop eliciting a cheer from the crowd and Nikiski was able to get it back on to the Houston side.
Unfazed, the Hawks were able to return, and after several more volleys managed to force Nikiski sophomore Sasha Auldridge to hit what appeared to be too long of a return.
However, the ball landed just inside the Houston court, bringing fans of both teams to their feet in appreciation of the unbelievable play.
The point was one of six straight the Bulldogs would rattle off to take firm control of the game and the match.
Following the match, Nikiski head coach Bruce King said it was the Bulldogs' never-quit attitude that finally paid off in Saturday's third-place victory.
"We worked hard all year, and it finally paid off," King said. "This is just a great group of kids."
Nikiski volleyball players celebrate their win in the fourth of four games against Heritage Christian Saturday. The victory propelled them to the third place game of the District 3/IIIA championship later in the day.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Nikiski got to Saturday's third-place game by defeating Heritage Christian earlier Saturday, three games to one.
The Bulldogs were led Saturday by the play of a group of underclassmen, including freshman middle hitter Hannah Thompson, who had a game-high 20 kills, and sophomore setter Stacey Griffel, who had 23 digs and assisted on 41 kills.
Thompson was particularly impressive, hounding a tough Hawks defense with persistent and accurate spikes throughout.
The freshman finished off the Hawks in the final game with an emphatic spike at the heart of what was supposed to be the Hawks' strength.
"We knew they were going to have a real tough defense, so we had to play hard," she said.
Sophomore Georgie Heaverley, who paced Nikiski with four serve aces to go along with 12 kills of her own, said Saturday's victory means a lot to the Bulldogs, especially considering how young the team is.
"We've really got a lot of young players, so it's going to be exciting," she said.
As for Houston, you get the feeling the Hawks aren't going anywhere. With a lineup that includes four juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen, it's not unlikely that the Hawks and Bulldogs could tangle again in the not too distant future.
"We're a team to be reckoned with now," said Houston coach Sieben after the match.
Despite its upbeat play, the Hawks are done this season, while the Bulldogs move on to the state tournament next week. And despite its youth, at least one Nikiski player believes the Bulldogs have a decent chance to make some noise at the tourney.
"I think we do," said Heaverley. "If we stay intense, stay consistent, I think we've got a chance."
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