Great volleyball teams adapt quickly.
The Kenai Central volleyball team wanted to win the Division II state volleyball tournament this season. That tournament did not happen due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The Kardinals adjusted and won the only season-ending tournament available by defeating Soldotna in the title game of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District volleyball tournament at Kenai Central High School. The scores were 25-20, 27-25 and 25-19.
After the state and region tournament were canceled, the peninsula’s schools and school district got together to put on the district tournament. With all three major areas of the district at high-risk level, the tournament was played under strict mitigation measures and wasn’t open to the general public.
“I’m very thankful the (athletic directors) helped us convey to the district how important it is to the kids to have this closure,” Kenai Central head coach Tracie Beck said.
The Kardinals lost to Homer in the Division II state title game last season and ever since that moment the team’s goal was to come back and win this year. Once that couldn’t happen, the team wanted to finish undefeated for the season and not lose any games at the district tournament.
Kenai accomplished both of those goals.
“It’s something,” Kenai senior Abby Every said. “I’ll take it. It’s some closure. But it’s not like the state tournament. We were looking to put a banner up at this school.”
The season started for central peninsula volleyball teams with outdoor conditioning due to high-risk levels. Games got going as cases went down, but then COVID shut down games again. Practices soon started again, but with masks required for players.
“From the beginning, we knew it would be a roller coaster season,” Kenai senior Kaylee Lauritsen said. “We had to play every game like it could be our last. We had to play every game as hard as we could to bring us closure.”
The team came to rely on each other.
“We had good peers around to help us through it,” Kenai senior Bethany Morris said. “We kept building each other up throughout the whole season.”
In the second game against SoHi, Kenai had to dig out of a late hole to nab the victory.
“I was glad the second game was close because I got to see the fire and the fight this team has,” Beck said.
No peninsula volleyball team played competition from off the peninsula the entire season. Beck said that meant the Kards were not often pushed like they were in that second game.
At the same time, Beck added the Kards were fortunate to have the peninsula teams to play. Homer, Kenai and Nikiski were the top Division II teams in the state last season, while SoHi is a Division I school.
“This isn’t where the kids thought they would end their season,” Beck said. “Their dream was to finish at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. But they did cherish their time together.”
Lauritsen said she’s enjoyed her time with the program and looks forward to seeing what the returning members of the team can accomplish.
Soldotna coach Luke Baumer also was happy with the way his team finished. The Stars beat Seward, Nikiski and Homer in the playback bracket before losing to the Kardinals. He said so many games in masks meant it took everybody on the bench to have that success.
Baumer said the Stars spent the end of the season trying to become more diverse hitters on offense and it paid off.
“I couldn’t be more happy,” he said. “I’m so excited for the seniors to end like this. I know they’ll be smiling from ear to ear once they take a long nap.”
Soldotna 3, Homer 2
The Stars, playing at Kenai Central, defeated Homer for the first time this season in a five-set match. The 17-25, 25-12, 21-25, 25-12 and 16-14 result ended Homer’s season at 11-6 and sent the Stars to the championship match.
Katlyn Vogl had eight kills for Homer, while Laura Inama had seven kills and Tonda Smude had three kills. Brooke Shafer and Hannah Hatfield each had seven assists. Inama had five aces, while Sela Weisser had eight digs and Tonda Smude had six blocks.
For Soldotna, Sierra Kuntz had 12 assists, while Sarah Rice had 17 kills, Morgan Bouschor had 14 kills and Aleena Zener had six kills. Zener had 35 digs, while Adarra Hagelund had two blocks. Rice had seven aces, while Zener had five aces.
Although this was a borough event, Homer took the loss with some emotion.
“We’re very competitive, even if it isn’t state or regions,” Homer coach Stephanie Carroll said. “Our players play for each other. It was nice we could get some games in.”
Assistant coach Tanya Shafer echoed those words, thanking coaches and administrators for taking the extra time to make mitigation plans happen that allowed events and practices to happen.
Carroll said her team had the players and talent to be better, but didn’t have the time needed to fully reach potential.
“Having four weeks off was really tough,” Carroll said. “It was like the beginning of the season again.”
Kenai 3, Homer 0
The Kardinals, playing at Kenai Central, moved into the finals and sent Homer to the playback bracket with a 25-19, 25-20 and 25-17 victory.
Katlyn Vogl had seven kills, while Laura Inama had six kills and Tonda Smude had four kills. Vogl had two aces, while Sela Weisser had 12 digs and Hannah Hatfield had eight assists.
Soldotna 3, Nikiski 1
The Stars kept moving along in the playback bracket at Soldotna.
Aleena Zener had nine aces, while Sarah Rice had five aces and Karly Johnson had seven aces. Rice had 22 digs, while Zener had 21 digs. Rice had 12 kills, while Morgan Bouschor had nine kills. Sierra Kuntz had 10 assists.
“I think it was a good way to end the season,” Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said. “We started slow but the last two games were exciting and intense. Whether we win or lose, that’s what we want to happen.
“I’m really proud of this group and how they handled things. We just didn’t get enough opportunities to improve as a group.”
Soldotna 3, Seward 0
The Stars started out their morning by eliminating the Seahawks in a game at Soldotna High School.
Morgan Bouschor had nine kills in the match, while Sarah Rice had seven and Taylor Edwards had five. Aleena Zener had 15 digs, while Adarra Hagelund had three blocks. Sierra Kuntz had nine assists.
Most Valuable Player — Laura Inama, Homer.
Coach of the Year — Stephanie Carroll, Homer.
First team — Laura Inama, Homer; Bethany Morris, Kenai; Abby Every, Kenai; Morgan Bouschor, Soldotna; Tonda Smude, Homer; Lillian Carstens, Nikiski; Hannah Schilling, Seward; Sela Weisser, Homer; Kaylee Lauritsen, Kenai; Aleena Zener, Soldotna.
Second team — Rosalie Anderson, Nikiski; Erin Koziczkowski, Kenai; Sierra Kuntz, Soldotna; Anna Endres, Seward; Taylor Edwards, Soldotna; Gaia Casagranda, Seward; Andie Galloway, Kenai; Sarah Rice, Soldotna.