The Homer volleyball team took another step in making its case as a team to beat in the Southcentral Conference, as well as the Class 3A state field.
The Mariners picked up a another big victory Friday night at Kenai Central High School with a three-game sweep over the Kardinals with scores of 25-18, 25-21 and 25-19.
Homer improved to 8-1 in conference play.
A win over Nikiski two weeks prior injected a lot of confidence in Homer, said first-year head coach Sara Pennington, and the Mariners are intent to show they are for real next week in the conference tournament.
“Everyone is saying this is the best (the team) has been in years,” Pennington said. “People are coming up to me and telling me that if we have any chance, this is the year we should be going to state. Keeping up with all these teams they haven’t in the past, just shows how much better they’ve gotten and the improvement they’ve made.”
Kenai dropped down to the Class 3A level after years at the top in 4A, making Homer’s win all the more crucial and impressive.
Homer junior Marina Carroll combined with junior outside hitter Kelli Bishop and senior setter Brianna Hetrick to lead the Mariners offense with eight kills and four aces to go along with eight digs and a block. Carroll said teamwork and experience has pushed the Mariners to a different level in 2018.
“We’ve been playing together the past couple years, and just knowing that we have a shot at state this year motivates us,” Carroll said. “Just having more experience and getting to know the players we have, we keep each other up, knowing how we play, we believe in each other.”
Bishop struck down nine kills and added nine digs, while Hetrick scored eight kills and five aces with 18 assists and 12 digs. Junior Karmyn Gallios added five kills, eight digs and two aces.
Pennington said Friday’s match on Kenai’s Cliff Massie Court was tighter than she imagined it would be.
“It was closer than we hoped,” Pennington said. “But I don’t think it was a surprise. We lacked a little on passing and serve-receive, just playing too antsy and balls were too tight. We wanted to take control of the game and not rush it.”
Still, the Mariners commanded the court and hardly trailed in any of the three sets. Homer got off to a 16-8 start in game one, then used a couple of timely kill points from Carroll and Bishop down the stretch to counter a slew of service points by middle hitter Lexi Reis, who combined with fellow sophomore Abby Every to form a formidable front line. Reis notched four kills on the night while Every had five.
However, the Kards struggled to handle Homer’s service game.
“We didn’t serve-receive well,” said Kenai head coach Tracie Beck. “If you can’t serve-receive, then you’re in trouble, because then you can’t run your offense.”
Sophomore Bethany Morris had 23 digs and four kills for Kenai, while junior Kailey Hamilton notched 10 assists and freshman libero Jenna Streiff had 11 digs.
Beck said Homer’s deeper lineup showed up against Kenai’s young group.
“I have no seniors,” Beck said. “So welcome to the world of young kids. You see brilliance, and then (the next play) you want to pound your head at the wall.”
Kenai started hot in the second set by scoring the first five points, helped by a string of good serves by sophomore Kaylee Lauritsen, but Homer answered back with a 5-0 run of its own to tie it.
The Kards led 14-11 before Homer started to come on strong, tying it at 17-all before Beck called timeout. Homer immediately took the lead out of the break on a service point by Hetrick, then Carroll took over to push the lead to 23-20. Tonda Smude capped the set with a spike that Kenai was unable to return, putting Homer ahead 2-0 in the match.
Bishop and sophomore hitter Laura Inama helped fuel a 14-6 start to the third set, which proved to be valuable as Kenai came back to close within 21-19 of the lead. The Mariners closed out with four straight points to secure the match victory.