The Nikiski High School volleyball team took a step closer to a state championship Thursday, defeating Valdez in three games in the opening round of the state 3A volleyball tournament at West High School in Anchorage.
Also at West Thursday, Kenai Central dropped their opener in the 4A tournament to Juneau-Douglas in four games.
Nikiski coach Bruce King said beating Valdez the four-time defending champion and advancing in the winner’s bracket was a big win for his team.
“This is the third straight appearance (in the state tournament) for these seniors, and they’ve never been victorious in the first round before,” said King.
The win sets up a semifinal matchup today with Mt. Edgecumbe, which defeated Monroe Catholic in three games in the opening round.
Should Nikiski win in the semifinals, the Bulldogs would play in Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. championship match. A semifinal loss would bump the Bulldogs to the third-place game at 12:30 p.m.
King said his team played well in every phase of the game. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead in the first game of the match and won 25-15. Nikiski led by 10 points, 17-7, in game two. Valdez climbed back into it before Nikiski won 25-20.
Valdez led by as many as six points, 17-11, in the third game before the Bulldogs rallied, finally beating the Buccaneers 32-30.
“That last one was tough on the nerves,” King said. “... We just started chipping away at it, and it turned into a marathon game.”
King credited his squad with staying mentally tough throughout the match.
“They kept their heads about them and really didn’t make many mistakes down the stretch. It was just both teams pounding away at each other,” King said. “We had some mental letdowns, especially when we were way ahead in the second game, but when it came down to the wire, when we needed to be mentally tough, we were.”
Nikiski’s Georgie Heaverley earned player of the match honors with 11 kills and two blocks to go with nine digs and three service aces. King said it was her best performance since she returned from an ankle injury.
Hannah Thompson had a stellar match for the Bulldogs, recording 21 kills and 11 blocks as well as 27 digs. Sasha Auldridge and Clare Bennett also played well during their shifts in the back row. Auldridge picked up 17 digs while Bennett had 19 digs.
Sherra and Shayna Pritchard each recorded seven blocks, and Sherra added five kills.
King also credited Stacey Griffel with an excellent match. The senior setter finished with 28 assists for the Bulldogs.
King said he doesn’t expect his team to let up as they move on in the tournament.
“I would be surprised if they let up at all. In some ways, that loss to Grace last weekend was a real wakeup call for us,” King said.
Juneau-Douglas 3, Kenai 1
The Kardinals fell to the Crimson Bears in the first round of the state 4A championships Thursday at West High School in Anchorage.
Kenai dropped the first game 25-18, but rallied for a 25-20 win in game two to level the match. Juneau edged Kenai in the next two games, 25-22, 25-22, to take the match.
“They were some tight games. I think my girls were definitely nervous coming in. They were real hesitant, trying to play it safe,” said Kenai coach Jason Diorec. “We realized that as aggressively as Juneau was attacking us, we had to come back attacking.
“We tried to dig ourselves out, we just didn’t have quite the room to do it.”
The Kardinals will play Northern Lights Conference foe Palmer in today’s consolation bracket match. A win would put Kenai in Saturday’s fourth-place match.
“We were definitely nervous, now we’ve gotten over that. We’re going to play our best now to try to take fourth position,” Diorec said.
Diorec credited outside hitters Jamie Peterson and Samantha Calderwood with strong performances and said that setter Kendra Steiner did a nice job spreading out Kenai’s attack and using all three hitters.
“I think if our serves had been more aggressive and our passing more consistent, it would have been a different outcome,” Diorec said.
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