The Nikiski High School volleyball team left the Alaska School Activities Association State 3A volleyball championship Saturday feeling satisfied.
"Third place is a good finish when you look at where we came from," said Nikiski coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen after the Bulldogs swept the Delta Huskies in the third-place match at West High School in Anchorage.
"I'm pleased that after a big disappointment (Friday) night that we came out focused and played with pride and determination."
The Bulldogs rolled to a 15-2, 15-2 and 15-4 win over the Huskies, but were bumped by eventual state champion Valdez in three games, 15-7, 15-2 and 15-6 in Friday's semifinal round.
"We had a lot of new players on this year's team. We were a very inexperienced team," said Nikiski's Kassie Thomson. "Valdez brought out our inexperience. No other team has done that."
But the Bulldogs have been able to regroup after a setback all season, from starting the year with just two returning starters to improvising a lineup just before the District 3/3A tournament after losing starters to illness and family commitments.
"We faced a lot of adversity this year," said Nikiski's April Lofstedt.
"The week we played without two starters pulled us together," Thomson said.
"It showed us what we can really do," said Mindy Cason.
The Bulldogs rebounded like veterans for Saturday's match, surrendering just eight points to the Huskies in three games.
In fact, the Bulldogs never allowed the Huskies to muster any sort of momentum, halting every Delta rally with strong play at the net by Cason, Karen Rabung and Joy Carr and excellent defense from Ashley Goff. Thomson and Lofstedt also turned in solid games from their outside hitter positions.
Delta actually held a 2-0 lead in the first game as the teams traded sideouts, but Carr served the Bulldogs to a 3-2 lead, getting a tip for a point by Rabung, a kill by Thomson and then hitting a big serve that the Huskies were unable to return.
Goff increased Nikiski's lead to 8-2 with five straight service points. Cason had a pair of kills and Rabung notched a block during the run.
Every subsequent scramble went Nikiski's way, with setter Liz Golia able to get her hands on just about every pass, and the Bulldogs back row was able to track down the errant passes their setter couldn't.
"Everyone worked real hard to come together," said Nikiski's Lyndsy Pritchard. "It was hard to adjust to everybody's style, but we pulled it together."
Lofstedt added a point on her serve -- Cason capped the rally with a block -- and Thomson served for a point, getting a kill from Carr, to give Nikiski a 10-2 lead.
Golia served out the game with five straight points, getting kills by Rabung and Thomson and a smash off the Delta block by Lofstedt to clinch the game.
Nikiski put up 13 points before the Huskies could get on the board in the second game. After a kill by Cason won the Bulldogs a sideout, Lofstedt put up a pair of points with serves the Huskies were unable to return.
Thomson made it 3-0 with her serve, and Cason added four points from the service line, aided by a kill from Rabung during the run.
Carr served for five more points, getting two kills and a block from Rabung during the run, Golia made it 13-0 on her serve, and Goff got the Bulldogs to game point.
Delta scratched for a pair of points, but Thomson served for the game as Carr notched a kill on an overpass by the Huskies to give the Bulldogs a two-game lead in the match.
The third game also belonged to the Bulldogs as Goff served up a 4-0 lead and Lofstedt made it 9-2 with five straight service points.
An ace from Thomson made it 10-2, Cason served for two points and Golia came up with a big serve to give Nikiski a 13-2 lead.
The Huskies scrapped for another point before a block by Cason on Pritchard's serve sent the Bulldogs to match point. Delta staved off defeat long enough to score once more, but that would be the last bone the Huskies would snatch from the Bulldogs.
Cason finished the match with eight kills and seven blocks, Rabung had nine kills and four blocks and Carr had six kills.
"I'm going to walk away satisfied. Hopefully, the kids will too," Hobart-Verkuilen said. "The word I would use for this team is perseverance. They went out and tried to do the best they could in whatever situation was thrown at them. Hopefully, later on in life, after being through this, they will be better women. It's a life skill."
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