Soldotna found itself in a familiar position Friday in the semifinal round of the ASAA state soccer tournament at Dimond High School.
Down 1-0 at halftime, just like Thursday’s match against Grace — a game they won 2-1 – Soldotna attempted to rally back and earn its way into Saturday’s state championship bout.
This time would be different, however, as the Stars were never able to find the right opportunity and ended up losing to West Valley 2-0.
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said the opportunities presented themselves but believes his players were too tentative at taking action.
“(West Valley) wasn’t perfect, but everything we were throwing at them, they had an answer for,” Love said. “I mean we made some nice runs, but we were hesitant on shooting the ball today, and to get this far, and to be hesitant like that, it’s frustrating.”
West Valley scored first in the 27th minute, as Christina Bussell took a shot directly down the middle and managed to get the ball past the fingertips of Soldotna goalkeeper Katelynn Kerkvliet.
The Wolfpack never let the pressure off of Soldotna in the second half, and upped the ante in the 65th minute, as Jillian Phillips produced a header into a goal off a West Valley corner kick.
“Maddie Ackiss was going to take it, and I just went back door and was tracking it, and a girl in front of me had the ball come right over her head and I put it in the corner,” Phillips said. “This is huge for us, especially since it’s my senior year and all the girls came out hard, I’m so proud of them.”
West Valley used the win to advance to the state championship game against South Anchorage at Dimond at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday.
“It wouldn’t be state if we weren’t playing South,” West Valley coach Greg Gibson said. “We’ve played South in the state tournament for the past five years, so we know they have tougher players we have to worry about.”
Had Soldotna won, the Stars would have made it into the state championship game, which would have been the first time a Kenai Peninsula team would have done so.
“I think this squad is different, but you need to have everybody on the same page,” Love said. “At halftime they were confident that they could come back, but some of those that we thought were going to make it through didn’t, and West Valley’s defense positionally played well and were able to stifle those attacks.
“Again, the ones that we were able to get through and not pull the trigger are just shocking to me.”
Interestingly enough, Soldotna, which entered the tournament as the second-seeded team, will play Dimond on Saturday, the tournament’s top seeded team, but they will face each other instead in the third-place match.
“Still, that would be great, and it didn’t matter whether we won or lost because we knew we were going to play a hefty opponent with South or Dimond,” Love said. “But if you’re going to play one of them, wouldn’t you rather play them in the championship rather than for third?”
Kenai Central girls 0, Grace 0, 3-1 Shootout
The Kenai girls faced a familiar opponent Friday in their semifinal consolation game against Grace Christian at Chugiak High School, and that familiarity likely led to the game ending with a scoreless tie at the end of regulation and overtime minutes.
Kenai beat Grace in a shootout, scoring three times to Grace’s one, and earned its way into the state tournament fourth-place match.
“I told the girls going into it that if you beat a team three times in a row, it’s an accomplishment, because you know each other so well and everybody knows each player’s position and movements,” Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said. “Grace played a great game, and they had some shots, and so did we, and we had a few scrambles in front of the net, and some fast heartbeats going for sure, and Heidi Perkins hit the post once in a nice shot."
After regulation time, the game went into two 10-minute overtime periods, in which no goals were scored. After that, two five-minute periods were used, in which the first goal scored immediately ends the game.
When the time came for penalty kicks to decide the game, Vanessa Anderson went first for Kenai, and scored.
After Grace scored its first, Lauren Schams converted her kick into a goal, and that led to a missed shot from Grace.
Taylor Ostrander missed her shot, but Christianna Garcia shot into the corner and past the Grace goalkeeper to ice the game there.
Grace scored on only one of their attempts, as Kenai goalkeeper Sydney Taylor held strong, making three saves.
“Sydney Taylor was our little spider monkey there, taking each shot, and they only got one by her,” Verkuilen said.
With this win, Kenai advances to the fourth-place match against Service on Saturday at 8 a.m.
“It was one of those games, where you get a ton of chances but the ball never goes in,” Verkuilen said. “It was very much a team victory, and everybody was excited. They had a few longer shots, and it was pretty even play throughout, and so now we’ll see how we stack up against Service.”