Soldotna seniors Kala Fowler, Megan Needs and Stacey Foster started playing volleyball together in seventh grade. They finished together on the all-Northern Lights Conference team.
Fowler, Needs and Foster capped their prep volleyball careers Saturday with the honors. Foster was named to the all-conference first team, while Fowler and Needs were recognized on the second team.
At the Northern Lights Conference Tournament, the Stars upset Wasilla on Thursday before losing to Palmer in five games on Friday in a match that could have earned Soldotna a state berth. The Stars then ended their season with a loss to Kodiak Saturday.
Soldotna had a young team this season, with Fowler, Needs and Foster the only seniors. There was just one junior, and all other members of the team were freshmen and sophomores.
Soldotna coach Pako Whannell said the leadership of the seniors was crucial with such a young squad.
"They really have done a great job including the younger girls this season," Whannell said. "Those three really lead this team. We've had our ups and downs, but they've gotten us through it."
Whannell said the seniors go out of their way to push the concept of team. For example, if one of the players subs in and makes a great pass that leads to an important kill, the seniors will make a point of lauding the player that made the pass.
"Even with a 3-7 (NLC) record, I've enjoyed this season," Whannell said before the conference tournament started. "I've had a lot of talent before but I've also had a lot of volatile personalities and struggled with previous teams.
"This team gets along on and off the court and plays for each other. It's all about team."
Foster, who has been on the varsity volleyball team for her whole four-year career at Soldotna, said this year the team was closer than any other year.
"We're all different types of leaders," Foster said. "Megan and Kala are vocal, and I'm more of the quiet type. We're all really good leaders and we try and lead the team because we're the three seniors."
Foster got hooked on volleyball watching her sister, 2000 Soldotna graduate Jessica, play the game. Whannell said that Stacey Foster's athletic ability, and the knowledge that came from watching her sister, marked her as a varsity player in her freshman year.
"I didn't know I was setting until practice started," Foster said. "I wasn't a setter coming in, I was made into one."
Foster said she learned setting quickly. Helping her learn, she said, was the fact that she was setting to towering, athletic players like Hillary Zobeck and Rachel Besse.
"They were so good, all I had to do was set the ball up there and they'd do what they wanted with it," Foster said. "It was a good experience."
After Foster's sophomore season, Zobeck and Besse graduated. Needs, a setter, moved up to varsity as a full-time player. This let Foster be a setter and a hitter.
"I enjoy hitting a lot, but I also enjoy setting," Foster said. "I don't think I could give up setting to be a hitter."
Foster also has played soccer and basketball for the Stars, although she stopped playing basketball after her sophomore year.
In the summer, she puts her talent to use on the softball diamond. She drives back-and-forth to Anchorage in order to play on a team there. For the last three weeks of the season, she joins Team Alaska to compete with teams Outside.
"I know the drive to Anchorage so well by now," Foster said. "I like playing softball so much, it's not even a hassle."
Foster, who enjoys snowmachining in Turnagain Pass, also does a good job in the classroom at Soldotna. She has a 3.94 grade-point average. She plans to attend Harding University in Arkansas next year and return to the area to be a land surveyor.
Like the rest of the seniors, Needs relished the challenge of leading a young team.
"This year has been a blast," she said. "Our team is close. They are like family. It's been a lot of fun this year."
Needs said that in seventh grade, her height quickly put her at the setting position. She played the position well enough to be a starter on varsity by her junior year.
Whannell said the addition of Needs' solid setting allowed the Stars to fully utilize Foster's versatility.
"With Megan picking up a lot of the setting, Stacey could focus more on offense," Whannell said.
Foster and Needs combined to give the Stars intelligent setting, because Needs also sports a strong grade-point average at 3.9. She plans to study radiology at Boise State University.
While Needs and Foster are the team's setters, Fowler's height of 5-foot-5 also would seem to mark her as a setter. However, Whannell said Fowler's high vertical leap allows her to play as tall as pretty much everyone on the team and be effective as an outside hitter. Last year, Fowler was even used as a middle hitter, a position traditionally reserved for those that are at least 5-10.
"The other team must look across the net and think she is going to be easy to hit on," Whannell said. "That's before they see her jump. She's really come on this year."
While contributing on the court, Fowler also has made an effort to contribute to the team's positive attitude.
"A team can destruct pretty quickly if the girls on it are not getting along," Fowler said. "We get along, and that's been important this year."
Fowler, who also plays soccer for the Stars, has a 3.65 grade-point average. She is not sure where she is going to school next year, but she would like to play volleyball. She said one of her hobbies is knitting.
While Foster, Needs and Fowler have played their last volleyball game for Soldotna, Whannell said their influence is not over.
"All the young players saw the way they led this team this year," Whannell said. "I'm hoping they learned from that, and that they will eventually lead the team in the same way."
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