The Homer volleyball team celebrates winning the Southcentral Conference Championships on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019 in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Kathy Vogl)

The Homer volleyball team celebrates winning the Southcentral Conference Championships on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019 in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Kathy Vogl)

Homer, Kenai punch state tickets with region volleyball semifinal wins

The Homer volleyball team swept Kenai Central in the Southcentral Conference championship game in Seward on Saturday, wrapping up the Mariners’ first conference title since 2014.

The Mariners, who won 25-21, 25-18 and 25-17, also earn a repeat trip to state with the title, while the Kardinals will go to state for the first time in 14 years thanks to their second-place finish.

Nikiski, the defending Class 3A state champs, did what they had to Saturday to try and earn a fourth-straight state berth via the at-large route. The Bulldogs topped Seward 25-12, 25-19, 23-25 and 25-19 in the morning to make the third-place game, then earned third by topping ACS 25-17, 25-16, 18-25 and 25-15. Kaitlyn Johnson was named MVP of the conference for Nikiski.

ACS had defeated Redington 25-21, 25-15 and 27-25 to make the third-place game.

First-year Homer head coach Stephanie Carroll, whose squad had to wait for the Alaska School Activities Association to bestow a state berth upon them last year, said the Bulldogs have a great shot.

“I think they will,” she said. “The conference has been so strong the last couple of years. I’m not sure how the whole process works, but I feel like they’ll probably get it.”

The Homer victory shows the conference tourney is all about peaking at the right time.

“We kind of hit the wall a few weeks ago,” Carroll said. “We struggled through those last couple conference games. Even the weekend of Dimond-Service, we were up and down.”

After losing to Nikiski in both conference matches, the Mariners topped the Bulldogs 25-16, 25-18 and 25-19 on Friday.

Outside hitter Marina Carroll powered the Mariners with 12 kills. Karmyn Gallios and Laura Inama had four kills each, while Tonda Smude notched two kills and two aces and Kelli Bishop recorded two aces.

Stephanie Carroll said outside hitters Marina Carroll and Inama were key in the match.

For the Mariners in the championship match, Marina Carroll had seven kills and an ace, Smude had five kills and three aces, Inama had six kills and an ace, and Gallios had three kills and two aces. Homer had split conference matches with Kenai this season.

“Our middles really stepped up against Kenai,” Carroll said of Smude and Gallios. “We had a really balanced attack against Kenai.”

Stephanie Carroll gave her team credit for pushing through the last couple of tough weeks.

“Everyone had put in the work and it comes down to mental toughness,” Carroll said. “For us to have seven girls on the team that were part of that team that went to state last year, and have that experience to draw from, was key today.”

For Kenai in the title match, Savanna Wilson had eight kills, Bethany Morris had seven kills, Abby Every had four kills and Erin Koziczkowski had two kills. Jaiden Streiff had 18 digs, while Kailey Lauritsen had eight. Lauritsen had 10 assists, while Kailey Hamilton had eight. Morris led with two aces, while Lauritsen, Every and Jaiden Streiff each had one.

“We didn’t play the championship game like we wanted, but that’s not taking any credit away from Homer,” Kenai coach Tracie Beck said. “Homer played fantastic.

“It’s hard when you lost like we did, but we’re playing for another weekend, and that’s been our goal all year.”

In Nikiski’s morning match with Seward, Kaycee Bostic had 15 kills, two blocks and three aces, while Savannah Ley had seven kills and Lillian Carstens had six kills. Johnson had 25 assists and 15 digs, while America Jeffreys had 22 digs.

In the third-place match against ACS, Carstens and Ley had nine kills, while Bostic had eight. Bostic had six blocks, while Carstens had five blocks. Johnson had 20 digs and 16 assists, while Jeffreys and Elora Reichert each had 16 digs.

Nikiski coach Stacey Segura gave credit to Homer for playing a great match in the semifinals.

“I’m really proud of how the girls handled themselves after that loss to Homer,” she said. “They went to bed defeated and woke up ready to go. I’m glad the defeat didn’t continue.”

Segura said she’s feeling good about her team’s chances of getting a state berth, which should be announced Sunday.

“We did everything in our power to set us up for the at-large berth with our play today,” she said.

Kenai beat Grace Christian 3-0 in their opener on Friday, then swept ACS by scores of 25-11, 25-10 and 25-20 in Friday night’s semifinals to advance to Saturday’s Southcentral title game and secure the program’s first state bid since 2005.

In the tournament quarterfinals, Nikiski won 3-0 over Houston with scores of 25-13, 25-20 and 25-14; Homer 3-0 over Redington with scores of 25-5, 26-24 and 25-19; Kenai won 3-0 over Grace with scores of 25-13, 25-18 and 25-15; ACS won 3-1 over Seward with scores of 27-29, 25-19, 25-17 and 25-14.

Against ACS, Junior Bethany Morris throttled the Lions with 13 kills, while Savanna Wilson added eight kills and Abby Every notched five. Morris also led the Kenai defense with 12 digs, while Jenna Streiff had nine digs. The Kards also got 11 assists and three aces from Kaylee Lauritsen, 10 assists from Kailey Hamilton and three aces from Jaiden Streiff.

In other games Friday, Seward beat Grace 3-1 in the loser-out bracket with scores of 25-19, 23-25, 25-22 and 25-14. Also, Redington beat Houston 3-2 to advance through the loser-out bracket.

Southcentral All-Conference

MVP — Kaitlyn Johnson, Nikiski.

First team — Marina Carroll, Homer; Bethany Morris, Kenai; Kaycee Bostic, Nikiski; America Jeffreys, Nikiski; Morgan Merriner, ACS; Kelli Bishop, Homer; Varvara Kuzmin, Redington; Rachel McGovern, Grace; Sequoia Sieverts, Seward; Kira Keller, ACS; Jenna Kaupp, ACS.

Second team — Jenna Streiff, Kenai; Laura Inama, Homer; Abby Every, Kenai; Brooke Harmon, Redington; Kailey Hamilton, Kenai; Karmyn Gallios, Homer; Dani Tompkins, Grace; Hannah Schilling, Seward; Jayden Winzenberg, Houston; Brandy Wafulu, Houston; Tonda Smude, Homer; Ashton Ealum, ACS; Leah Buller, Grace; Selma Casagrande, Seward.

Honorable mention — Kitri Classen, Homer; Marian Aparezuk, Redington; Lillian Carstens, Nikiski; Tika Zimmerman, Nikiski; Savannah Ley, Nikiski; Lily Hulst, Grace; Denali Whitted, Houston; Tiara Malidae, Houston.

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