There was much to celebrate for the host Soldotna soccer teams Wednesday — senior day, sun and Northern Lights Conference Southern Division titles.
The Stars girls came in with the Southern Division No. 1 seed already in hand, and punctuated an undefeated run through the division with a 5-0 victory over Nikiski.
SoHi improved to 6-0-1 overall and 5-0 in the division, while the Bulldogs fell to 3-5 and 1-3.
The Soldotna boys scored in the first minute of the game to defeat Nikiski 2-0 and move to 3-1 and 3-3-1. Nikiski fell to 1-2 and 3-4.
The SoHi girls will go for a fourth-straight NLC title when the conference tournament begins next week. It is a measure of how good that program has gotten that coach Jimmy Love is not happy with the way his team finished Wednesday, yet the Stars still won going away.
“They are definitely a strong team,” Nikiski coach Mandy Adair said. “They have a lot of players that play year-round and that is definitely an advantage for them.”
Just two minutes into the game, Taryn McCubbins started the scoring on assists from Skylar Shaw and Bailey Rosin.
After that, each of the SoHi goals involved superb play on the outside by either Kylee Wolfe or Kelci Benson. In the 23rd minute, Wolfe crossed to Benson at the far post for a goal. Just before the close of the half, Benson snuck a shot past Nikiski keeper Rachel Thompson.
In the second half, Wolfe scored on a cross from Shaw, then a Wolfe cross set up a Julie Litchfield tally.
“We know we are pretty quick on the outside,” Love said. “One of our strengths is working the ball outside before moving it inside.”
The working it outside part worked great Wednesday. Love’s problem came with what happened when the ball went back inside.
“I know for a fact there were three or four times, because they are vivid in my memory, that we crossed the ball right in front of the goal and missed,” Love said.
He said in the tight games expected at the region and state tournaments, such misses can be the difference between winning and losing.
“As far as possession, we were doing what we wanted to do,” Love said. “On finishing, we didn’t fare as well.”
A measure of the pressure that SoHi put on Nikiski is the 25 saves by Thompson — a school record.
“She had a big game for us,” Adair said. “With that amount of pressure, they are going to score a few goals.”
Adair also said Rebekah Krogseng played well in the midfield.
“Nikiski’s calling card is we start to figure out how to play soccer heading into the region tournament,” Adair said. “We always play a solid game at regions.”
The Bulldogs can clinch a spot in the NLC tourney when they host Skyview today at 5 p.m. A loss by Nikiski means the Bulldogs fall into tiebreaking scenarios with Skyview and Seward.
“It’s a must-win if we want to avoid all that,” Adair said. “We have to take care of business.”
Katelynn Kerkvliet earned the shutout in net for the Stars. Heidi Westerman, Molly Fenton, Natalie Kress and Juliet Bramante were honored for senior day. Bramante is actually a junior, but will be going to Europe next year.
Soldotna boys 2, Nikiski 0
Senior day was held between the girls and boys varsity games.
The Stars had 11 seniors to honor — Cory Carver, Cameron Grothe, Dillon Jensen, Asa Johnson, Hunter Koch, Jonas Perletti, Sawyer Rickman, Joe Rife, Matti Silta, Jared Tovoli and Kenny Werth.
Sometimes senior festivities before a game can be a distraction, but SoHi coach Jeff Siemers said the snappy ceremony worked for his team.
“It was pictures, hugs with mom, score some goals,” Siemers said.
Right after kickoff, the Stars moved the ball down the field with several quick passes before Carver scored the first of his two goals on the day. Since SoHi was going into the teeth of a whipping wind, that first goal was more than a goal.
“I was like, ‘A goal into the wind less than a minute into the game. This is nice,’” Siemers said.
Nikiski coach Jim Coburn, whose team needs to beat Skyview at Nikiski today at 3 p.m. to sew up a spot in the NLC tourney, said his squad was never able to overcome that start.
“We started really slow,” Coburn said. “We have to be ready to play. Give Soldotna credit. They came out ready to play.”
Coburn told his team before the game that SoHi was really dangerous on corner kicks, but in the 18th minute, Carver, on an assist from Dylan Kuntz, headed in a corner anyway.
Carver’s strength is once the ball is in the air, he is frequently the first one to position hiimself precisely where the ball is going to land.
“He works on that stuff,” Siemers said. “He plays a lot and takes a lot of crosses. He also knows his teammates well and reads his teammates well.”
The second half was dead-even. SoHi, going with the wind, had four shots on goal, while Nikiski had three.
“We’re capable of playing with them,” Coburn said. “We just have to come ready to play.”
SoHi goalie Kayne North was able to turn aside several quality chances on net, while Coburn said Nikiski goalie Lincoln Johnson also was solid. Coburn added that Devan Berry was solid in the field.
In addition to the strong play by the seniors, Siemers said defender Ricky Nelson and midfielder Jonas Perletti had shining performances.
Both the SoHi girls and boys head to the Valley for games this weekend.
Homer boys 6, Skyview 0
Senior Konstantin Reutov scored a hat trick to lead the Mariners to a shutout road win over the Panthers on Wednesday.
Behind Reutov, Peter Ellert scored two goals and Manuel Spigno added another, and had an assist as well.
Drew Brown returned from injury to notch two assists and Carson Duggar had an assist.
The win leaves Homer in a tight mix atop the Northern Lights Conference standings with a 3-2-1 overall record, 2-1-1 in the conference. Kenai holds an identical conference record, and SoHi is 3-1.
The Mariners will host the Palmer Moose on Friday and the Colony Knights on Saturday.