The top-seeded Soldotna boys finally cast the monkey off their back with a 5-1 first-round win over Palmer in the Northern Lights Conference tournament at the Kenai Soccer Complex on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, the Kenai girls, Soldotna girls and Homer boys got wins to advance to Friday’s semifinal round.
In the SoHi boys game, Cory Carver scored twice to lead the team past the Moose, with goals in the 30th and 68th minutes.
As soon as the final whistle sounded, the team began to celebrate as if they won a championship game. SoHi coach Jeff Siemers said the win was a relief.
“Especially in this weather, it’s good to have the guys come out and break this curse we’ve had the last couple seasons,” Siemers said. “It’s always one game at a time. We just played Wasilla last week, so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”
Wasilla beat the Kenai boys 4-1 to advance to the semifinal game against the Stars on Friday at 5 p.m.
Cameron Grothe sent a long, arcing ball from about 30 meters out to score a goal seven minutes into the second half that put SoHi up 2-0, but Palmer stuck back in the 53rd minute with a goal that put a damper on the Stars’ enthusiasm.
Once Carver got his second goal, it was all downhill from there, as Ty Fenton and Daniel McElroy added goals to pad the Stars’ lead in the 72nd and 80th minutes, respectively.
If the Stars can beat Wasilla on Friday, they will automatically qualify for their first state berth since 2009. If not, they still have a chance in Saturday’s third-place game.
Soldotna girls 3, Wasilla 1
The top-seeded Stars got a scare in Thursday’s first-round matchup with Wasilla, as they were forced to rally back from a halftime deficit to advance their way into the semifinals.
Wasilla scored first in the 19th minute when sophomore Alexa Starr chipped a shot from about 40 yards out. The long ball that would normally be easily stopped by goalie Katelynn Kerkvliet slipped by and rolled into the net, to the jubilation of the Warriors.
Wasilla, which suffered a loss to Soldotna last week during its regular-season finale, led 1-0 at halftime.
“That’s the dangerous things with these tournaments,” said SoHi coach Jimmy Love. “We all know why we’re here, and the records when we get here mean jack squat. We’re all 0-0, and with the weather being the way that it is, one bad bounce and one goal is all it takes.”
The Stars came out charging with three goals in 10 minutes in the second half. Taryn McCubbins had two of those strikes.
“We were playing OK, maybe we were a little sluggish, but they were in the same weather we were,” Love said. “We came out and we figured if we get one, we can get another, and thankfully they listened to it.”
Julie Litchfield took a free kick in the 47th minute from 30 meters out and McCubbins managed to convert on the goal. McCubbins added another goal in the 51st minute, and Miranda Wolfe put in an insurance goal in the 57th, with assists from McCubbins and Kelci Benson.
In the final 20 minutes, Soldotna continued to find chances to score, and although none made it past the Wasilla goalie, it was clear that the Stars were the dominant force. Overall, Soldotna took 18 shots on goal.
Kenai girls 4, Palmer 1
The Kardinals held control throughout their first-round matchup with Palmer on Thursday to seize a Friday matchup with Colony.
Cassie Ross and Jenna Calhoun had goals in the sixth and 11th minutes, respectively, to give Kenai an early lead, but Palmer tightened things up with a shot from Miracle Burton in the 36th minute.
“One of the things we talked about as a team was getting an early jump,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “We’ve had a lot of close scores and 2-1 games like that, so we didn’t want this to be one of those games where we go into the half with a panic, and not knowing if we can go into the second half and jump on them.”
It didn’t take long for Kenai to retaliate, as only two minutes after the Palmer goal, Brandi Wagoner scored on a long shot that lazily arced its way over the Palmer goalkeeper that put Kenai up by two once again.
“With the wet ground today, we talked about keeping the ball going diagonal and cutting across their defense,” Verkuilen said.
Logan Tuttle added a fourth goal only three minutes into the second half that left the Kardinals with the easy win. Overall, Kenai attempted 13 shots on goal, while goalkeeper Sydney Taylor only had to deal with five total shots.
Kenai’s most recent game with Colony ended with a 1-0 loss for the Kards, but the one goal was due to a penalty kick. Kenai and Colony face off today at 11 a.m.
Wasilla boys 4, Kenai 1
Wasilla took its first step toward a three-peat Thursday, scoring a tough win over Kenai during the first day of the Northern Lights Conference Championships at the Kenai Soccer Complex.
“It was a tighter match than the score indicated,” said Kenai coach John Morton. “We hate to end our season early, but I’m proud of the guys.”
Wasilla led just 1-0 at halftime, but added three goals in the second half. With the win, Wasilla moves into the semifinal round to play Soldotna today at 5 p.m. Soldotna, the top seed from the NLC South, eliminated Palmer with a 5-1 win over the Moose Thursday evening.
Cash McGregor, Oleg Lozko and Elijah Crawford recorded second-half goals for Wasilla. Ethan Keenan scored on a breakaway to give the Warriors a first-half lead.
Josh McKee scored Kenai’s lone goal in the 70th minute off an assist from Nathaniel Saavedra.
Kenai goalkeeper Wren Norwood performed well in net, even with the loss. Norwood saved a crucial penalty kick in the 68th minute with the score 2-0 to keep Kenai in the game, and when McKee closed the gap two minutes later, it nearly came to fruition.
Homer boys 3, Grace 0
The Mariners got goals from Carson Duggar, Drew Brown and Manuel Spigno en route to winning and advancing to the semifinals.
Duggar and Kenneth Schneider also had assists.
“I thought it was a pretty good game, my players thought it was a pretty clean game and the better team won today,” said Homer coach Warren Waldorf.
Homer will take on Colony at 1 p.m. today, a team that they beat in the fourth-place game at the state tournament last year.
Grace girls 5, Homer girls 1
The Grizzlies, the No. 2 seed from the Northern division, cruised to a first-round win over the Mariners on Thursday.
Colony girls 7, Nikiski 1
Colony freshman Peyton Johnstone scored five goals to lead Colony to a win over Nikiski during the first round of the NLC Championships in Kenai Thursday. Senior Ali Baker also scored twice in the win.
Colony boys 7, Nikiski 0
Chris Olsen led the Knights with a pair of goals. Asher Dale, John Kander, Nick Blohm, Artie Fonov and Kyle Bolam also scored for the Knights. Chaz Stephens led the Knights with three assists.
Colony moves forward to face Homer. The Mariners upset Grace Christian 3-0 during the quarterfinals. Grace was the No. 2 seed from the NLC North.
Frontiersman reporter Jeremiah Bartz contributed to this story.