The Kenai Central volleyball team avenged a loss to Homer in the Class 3A state championship match last season by sweeping the Mariners last Friday, but Homer came back to defeat the Soldotna Stars on Tuesday.
The Kardinals topped Homer 25-21, 25-22 and 25-21 at Cliff Massie Court at Kenai Central High School.
“It’s been a grudge match all last year and the year before that,” Kenai Central head coach Tracie Beck said. “It feels pretty surreal to take it in three like that.”
The win also came on senior night for the Kardinals. Maria Shaginoff, Zaharah Wilshusen, Kaylee Lauritsen, Abby Every and Bethany Morris were honored before the match. The big night came so early in the season due to the uncertainty created by the new coronavirus pandemic.
“I have so many memories of senior night, but this one sticks out in my mind,” Beck said. “The way we played — this is a special group of kids.”
The Kardinals moved 3-0 overall, while Homer fell to 4-1. With the win against SoHi, Homer is now 5-1.
Both teams Homer and Kenai suffered some key losses after last season, with the Mariners losing four seniors and Kenai also losing four seniors, plus a libero who moved out of town.
Beck said her team is still very much a work in progress. The Kards have gone with a different rotation in all three of their matches now. The coach also said her squad normally serves consistently, but made some uncharacteristic errors in that department Friday.
Desire was enough to overcome that.
“They ended our season with a loss in the championship game,” Beck said. “A lot of determination and preparation went into this game. We had it in our minds that this is our year.”
Each game was close, but in each game Every and Morris were able to provide key kills late that served as the difference.
“Bethany and Abby — I’m glad they’re on my team,” Beck said.
Every had 10 kills, three stuff blocks and 11 digs. Morris had nine kills and 12 digs, while Kaylee Lauritsen had 28 assists and four aces. Also for the Kards, Erin Koziczkowski had four stuff blocks, Andie Galloway had five kills, Emma Beck had four kills and Valerie Villegas had 14 digs.
Homer head coach Stephanie Carroll said the Kards were a tough team in a tough environment.
“We didn’t do as well as we could have,” Carroll said. “It’s a hard gym to play in because of the noise of the crowd. We lost concentration a few times.”
In addition to the crowd, Carroll said missed serves and some nervousness caused by the Kenai block helped the Kards pull away at pivotal times.
“Momentum is a very fragile thing in volleyball,” she said. “We couldn’t seem to hang onto it.”
Tonda Smude paced the Mariners with eight kills, while Katlyn Vogl had six kills, Sela Weisser had 13 digs, Laura Inama had two aces, and Hannah Hatfield and Brooke Shafer each had seven assists.
Coming back from that loss to play with confidence, the Mariners topped the visiting Soldotna Stars three sets to one on Tuesday night in the Alice Witte Gymnasium in Homer.
Homer moved to 5-1 overall with scores of 25-15, 25-14, 24-26 and 25-13.
The Mariners controlled the first two sets easily maintaining their lead in the first. In the second set, both teams struggled to take the lead, with the score being tied repeatedly up to 6-6. Homer then broke away, fueled by a number of aces from Laura Inama.
The Stars came back in the third set to challenge the Mariners, keeping the game close all the way to their two-point victory. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Mariners from running away with the fourth set and sealing the game.
Both Homer head coach Stephanie Carroll and Soldotna head coach Luke Baumer said mental errors plagued their teams Tuesday night. For Soldotna, in a building year, Baumer said the match against Homer was the first varsity away game for some of the younger players.
“(For) a lot of JV players coming up to varsity, it’s definitely a very intimidating thing,” he said. “Especially when we come to Homer. Homer’s a very difficult place to play in. The fans here are great — they keep the energy up really high for them. So even if we go on a run, we know it’s probably not going to last long.”
Baumer said the Stars did a good job adjusting during the game and working their control of the ball. The team’s serving game was more hit and miss, he said.
“When we’re on, I think we’re probably one of the best serving teams in the area for sure,” Baumer said. But when we’re off, we’re definitely off.”
It’s easier for the younger players to get shaken by mistakes, making it harder to dig their way out.
“And then they’re in their own heads,” Baumner said. “And that was kind of the big thing for us tonight I think — it was a mental game today. … We definitely play a lot better than that.”
Carroll said the mental errors for Homer came in during the third set. But, she said the Mariners played with a lot more confidence after having lost to Kenai last Friday.
“Last weekend we had our younger girls going up against Kenai. It was the first like, they’re real big competition, so they were pretty nervous and kind of had a rough weekend,” Carroll said. “So this week I just told them to come out and play with confidence and they did.”
Carroll said the team’s passing game is getting better, but still isn’t as consistent as she’d like.
“Our serves were not as good last weekend, but they seem to have rebounded to where we’re good with our serves,” she said. “And they don’t give up on balls, as you could see there’s a lot of — when it goes into a scramble they usually do pretty good at keeping up with that.”
Baumer said Homer is the “scrappiest team” Soldotna has seen so far this season, and that theirs was also the best defense the Stars have seen so far.
On Tuesday, Inama lead the Mariners with nine kills, eight digs and four aces. Katlyn Vogl had five kills, four aces and two digs; Melanie Morris had five kills and one dig; Tonda Smude had four kills, two aces, one assist and six blocks; Gracie Gummer had four kills, one assist and two blocks; Amber Hull had two kills; Hannah Hatfield had nine assists, two aces and four digs, Brooke Shafer had seven assists, three aces and one dig; Sela Weisser had eight digs and an assist; and Lizzie Flodin and Zoe Adkins had two digs each.