The week before the Northern Lights Conference tournament, the host Soldotna soccer teams provided Palmer with a measuring stick Friday.
The Moose measured up pretty well.
The Palmer girls lost to SoHi 2-1 as the Stars moved to 10-0 overall and the Moose dropped to 3-4-3. Despite the loss, Palmer coach Harmony Chadwick was extremely pleased with the way Palmer responded to Soldotna's physical play.
In the boys game, the Moose notched a 2-1 victory that marked the first time Palmer has beaten SoHi during Palmer coach Kevin Dearborn's six-year tenure.
The Soldotna girls have won the last two NLC tournaments while gaining a reputation as a team that is physical in challenging for and keeping the ball.
"They are a super tough team," Chadwick said. "We've mentally pulled out when we've played them before. It's super important that we stayed in there this time and kept playing with them."
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love agreed that Palmer never backed down.
"They were the physical team," Love said. "We addressed that when we played Wasilla.
"Those are the types of games where when you have the ball at your feet, you're going to have to expect some contact."
Chadwick said the Moose played aggressive in a victory over Nikiski on Thursday and were able to carry that into Friday.
The Moose struck first in the 20th minute. Miracle Burton dribbled straight up the middle on the Soldotna defense and collected herself for a perfect strike past SoHi keeper Katelynn Kerkvliet.
Love said he was not happy a player was able to dribble right through the heart of the defense.
"We talked about that," he said. "Somebody has to be willing to sacrifice their body for the team.
"She dribbled through four defenders and nobody was willing to get a body on her."
Soldotna tied it up in the 34th minute. Kylee Wolfe boomed a perfect corner kick into the center of the box. Shae VanMeter knocked the ball down with her body to Julie Litchfield, who beat Palmer goalie Morgan Morfe.
Just like in a Thursday victory over Skyview, Love said his team got off to a slow start. He said the Stars struggled with their first touch and playing to space in the first half.
"We came out in the second half and our touch was better, but running into space wasn't quite there yet," he said.
The Stars started the second half with some intense pressure on Palmer, but after the Stars had a goal called back in the 48th minute due to offsides, Palmer was able to settle down.
The Moose lost Morfe, who had been sick on Thursday with a 103-degree temperature, to a broken finger in the 51st minute.
In the 62nd minute, Litchfield played a cross to Kylee Wolfe, who fired off a shot only to have it bounce right back at her. She reloaded and beat backup keeper Kat Godden.
Morfe returned to the game right after the strike, but Chadwick said Morfe would not have stopped Wolfe's blast.
Love said Wolfe is the hardest-working player he has personally seen in the conference.
"She is an outstanding player," he said. "She's giving 110 percent every game."
Palmer and Soldotna could meet in the first round of the region tournament, meaning a potential tough first-round matchup.
"Whoever we draw from the north is always going to be tough," Love said.
Palmer boys 2, Soldotna 1
The Moose recovered from a lackluster first half to break through against Soldotna.
"Soldotna has always had our number, whether it's been here or in the Valley," Dearborn said. "This is a huge win for us."
The Stars had their way in the first half. Soldotna took eight corner kicks in the first 40 minutes, while Palmer didn't take any.
The Stars took a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute, when Cory Carver found Jonas Perletti barrelling down the middle of the field. Perletti carried the ball to the top of the box and beat Palmer keeper Chandler Jones.
In the 34th minute, Carver drew a foul in the box. Carver made the penalty kick, but it was ruled that Soldotna charged into the penalty box too soon. Palmer was awarded an indirect free kick.
After the game, Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers said the rules state that the Stars should have been allowed to retake the kick.
Siemers said the penalty kick was one of many wasted chances for his team.
"In the first half, with creating as many opportunities as we did, we need to finish stronger," he said. "We're going to have to score goals to win the hard-fought games we have coming up."
The Moose collected themselves at halftime and made SoHi pay for not netting a few more goals in the first half.
"It was strange for us because we normally don't play well when we are down a goal," Dearborn said.
In the 56th minute, Palmer drew even on a free kick from midfield. The ball was lofted to the top of the box and Nick Blohm attempted a bicycle kick.
Blohm whiffed on the attempt, but it served as a perfect distraction as the ball flew past him to Luis Fernandez Luque, who beat SoHi goalie Kayne North.
Just two minutes later, Palmer took the lead when Blohm drilled a shot on North. North gave up the rebound, and Felix Rinaldi was there to cash in.
"Then we just had to hang on," Dearborn said.
Palmer's second goal jolted the Stars back to life.
"We didn't come out as strong in the second half as we should have," Siemers said. "Palmer kept playing strong, and scored the goals when they needed to."
Soldotna pressed to try and find the equalizer, but could not beat Jones. Dearborn said Kyle Miller had a strong game on defense.
Siemers gave credit to Carver, Perletti and Cameron Grothe for creating a lot of opportunites. He also said Kevin Stone did well on defense.
Rinaldi, Blohm and Luque were all hobbled by injuries by the end of the game, but Dearborn said all should be ready to go with a little rest.