The Soldotna volleyball team swept Palmer on Saturday at West High School in Anchorage to finish fourth at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament.
The fourth-place finish most likely makes history at Soldotna. Records on the Alaska School Activities Association Web site are incomplete when it comes to fourth-place matches, but those records show no Soldotna team finishing fourth or higher in the years after 1990-91.
Soldotna coach Bruce King and former Soldotna athletic director Al Howard have been around Soldotna High School and the area volleyball scene for about 20 years, and neither can remember a Soldotna volleyball team finishing fourth or higher.
"This team has a lot to be proud of," Howard said.
King said that in all his years of coaching on the peninsula, this SoHi team did the best job of keeping intrateam drama to a minimum and showing up each day in practice looking forward to playing volleyball.
The Stars had defeated the Moose in three games in the regular season, but Saturday's fourth-place match was no guarantee. Palmer won the Northern Lights Conference tournament, while Soldotna finished third in that tournament. SoHi topped the Moose 25-14, 25-18 and 25-23.
"Palmer was not their usual self today," King said. "We put pressure on them, but they made mistakes that they normally don't make. We got the momentum headed in our direction, and it was tough for them to get it back."
The Stars finished with a 22-2 record this season. The two losses both came in the first round of tournaments -- the first day of the NLC tournament to Kodiak and the first day of state to Chugiak. Both times, SoHi rebounded from those losses by winning out in the tournament.
King said his team, which has seven seniors, has responded well to adversity all year.
"They actually just jumped ahead in both matches," King said of the Friday state victory over Juneau and the victory over Palmer. "That can be hard to do.
"We had to play at 10:45 (in the morning) both days. They showed up ready to play from the first whistle."
King said the Stars immediately put the Moose on their heels.
"We came out playing excellent volleyball," King said. "We made virtually no errors. We only had two missed serves in the first game.
"We were pretty much flawless in the first game and it carried over into games two and three."
The coach said his team, which had seven seniors, has been at its best when each player fills a role. That happened Saturday.
Senior Emily Rohloff, the floor leader, had 27 assists and also pitched in on defense with 14 digs. Senior Emily Rich continued her late-season surge with five kills and four blocks.
King said senior Megan Hardy is the glue that keeps the team together because she does everything well. Hardy had nine digs and four kills.
Senior Lydia Forbes was named player of the match. She had a few aces, passed well and had 13 digs and six kills.
Senior Mariah Hamilton had eight blocks. King said Hamilton's blocks to open the first and third games set the tone for those particular games. King also said Jasmine Woodland did not play a ton, but did exactly what was required of her when she did get on the floor.
The final senior, NLC Southern Division player of the year Shana Powell, had an excellent tournament, according to King. Powell was the most efficient passer on serve-receive. She had 18 digs and 14 kills.
Rebecca Satethite, one of three juniors on the squad, had 15 digs.
"That senior leadership brought a lot to the floor," King said. "There's a lot of good talent at Soldotna. We have three good players returning, and there are a lot of hungry kids on the JV."
Stars 3, Bears 2
The Stars defeated Juneau-Douglas in five games, 25-18, 22-25, 25-23, 23-25 and 15-5 on Friday to reach the fourth-place match.
"It was a battle," King said. "It was hard fought on both sides."
Powell lead the team in digs with 28. Satethite and Forbes each had 18. Hardy had 17, Rohloff notched 14 and Rich came in with 13.
King said most of the games were tight the whole the way through.
"There weren't many leads of more than a few points until game five," he said. "Our defense showed up today, that was the difference."
Rohloff had three service aces and a team-high 34 assists. Rich and Hamilton both had nine blocks, three stuff each. Powell led with 16 kills, followed by Forbes with seven, Hardy with six and Hamilton with five.
After losing 3-0 to Chugiak on Thursday, King said his team wanted to win to stay alive in the tournament.
"The seniors wanted to play one more match," he said. "They worked hard today."
Also Friday in the third-place bracket, Palmer swept West Valley 25-12, 25-18, 25-21.
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