The Soldotna girls rallied to beat Grace Christian 2-1 on Thursday at Chugiak High School to advance to the semifinal round of the ASAA state soccer championships.
Grace scored early, in the 13th minute, to take the lead, but that did not deter the Stars.
“It’s one of those things that comes out of these tournaments, and you can reiterate it until you’re blue in the face — you need to come to play — and Grace showed up in the first half and we did not, and they got a goal,” Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said. “We just had the girls settle down and get their heads back in the game, and when they did that, it’s really not that much of a struggle for us.”
Love said when Soldotna managed to focus and play to the level it was used to, it was like watching two different teams out there.
Kylee Wolfe scored on a direct kick in the 61st minute to knot the game up.
“It was really nice shot, she put it right up above the fingertips of the keeper and under the crossbar, and I don’t know if you could have fit it in a tighter spot,” Love said. “We were mounting a huge amount of pressure, which is what created the foul, I think one of our girls tried to sidestep her, and the other girl took her legs out from beneath her, so we had a free kick.”
Ten minutes later, Wolfe’s sister, Miranda, scored off a series of assists from Julie Litchfield and Taryn McCubbins. The play saw the ball go from Litchfield to McCubbins to Wolfe, and from there into the net.
With the win, Soldotna advanced to the semifinal round against West Valley, who narrowly avoided Kenai to make their way in. Game time on Friday is 3 p.m. at Dimond.
Like in the Kenai game, there was a consistent rain at Chugiak, and Love said he thought that combined with the turf field threw Soldotna for a loop early on.
“We pretty much warmed up in rain and finished in rain, but I think the biggest transition we had to make was the transition from grass to turf,” he said. “Some of those balls that we sent through to the forwards would have easily been caught on a grass field, but with that turf the ball travels a little longer and faster, so we were off on our finishing.”
Love said the current challenge for the team is convincing themselves that they have what it takes to challenge the bigger schools. Soldotna entered the tournament seeded second, only below Dimond.
“I think part of it is just a historical thing where our goal is to just win regions and if we make it to state, that’s great and we get a couple extra games,” Love said. “I don’t think these girls think they can compete here. We’re trying to convince them that they are better than that, and they can compete, so I can’t say that’s all of it, but the tenacity and fire isn’t quite there at state.”