After being swept by Soldotna in Friday’s season-opening volleyball match, longtime Kodiak coach Amy Willis had a message for her young team: get fired up.
That message was delivered during a post-game chat following a 25-19, 25-21, 25-15 loss at Kodiak High School.
“They are the kindest, nicest, most polite team that I have ever coached,” Willis said. “We talked about what makes them angry, and that we needed to have a little anger out here (on the court).”
The coach found out that one player has road rage, several get upset when siblings eat all the food and another dislikes customers.
“We talked about bringing that fire to the court and I think it worked. They did a nice job today,” said Willis following Saturday’s 25-18, 21-25, 25-18, 25-22 loss to Soldotna.
Kodiak dropped to 0-2 in the Northern Lights Conference, a year after posting a 10-0 regular-season record and winning the school’s second conference title.
However, only two players returned from that squad that placed fifth at state. The other 11 players on the Bears’ bench this weekend all made their varsity debuts, and nerves got the best of them in Friday’s opener.
Kodiak’s biggest lead of the match was four points and that came early in the first set. Ryana Recustodio — one of the two players on last year’s varsity — led the team with five kills and 10 digs. Zennia Chia laced five service aces.
Saturday’s match was a lot more competitive, with the Bears nearly forcing a fifth and deciding set.
Kodiak jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the fourth set, but Soldotna roared back to tie it at 15 on a service ace — one of 16 from the Stars during the match — by Cally Christianson.
It went back and forth from there until Soldotna freshman Ituau Tuisaula served five straight points to put her team up 23-19.
With the help of a block and a kill from sophomore Madelaine Egdorf — a transfer from Soldotna — Kodiak pulled to within 23-22.
The Stars finished the match with kills from Judah Aley and Drewe Zeek, who combined for 18 of their team’s 38 big hits. Tuisaula tossed in nine kills and four aces.
Recustodio led Kodiak’s attack with seven kills and 22 digs. Kyla Nocon added 27 digs, while Chia tallied six blocks. Senior setter Kierra Murphy — a defensive specialist on last year’s team — dished out 10 assists.
Soldotna graduated three all-conference players from a team that finished seventh at state last year and third in the NLC.
Coach Sheila Kupferschmid said her players made “young mistakes” but noted they have the potential to do big things in the six-team conference.
“I told the kids we were coming to ‘The Rock’ to play a very good Kodiak program, so we will enjoy this one,” Kupferschmid said.
Under Willis, Kodiak has qualified for state the past five seasons and has won the conference title in two of the past three years.
Saturday’s performance has the 11-year coaching veteran fired up for the rest of the season.
“I think they just needed permission to win; that it was OK to want it,” Willis said.
“The girls felt good with what we did today (Saturday). It was a good weekend for us. We are not down; we are excited to keep improving as we go through the season.”