Soldotna sophomore Miranda Wolfe is as good at stopping scoring chances as she is at creating them, and that's a big reason the Stars are headed to their fifth state soccer tournament in the last six years.
Wolfe had a goal and an assist as SoHi defeated Grace Christian 3-1 on Friday in the semifinals of the Northern Lights Conference soccer tournament at the Kenai Soccer Complex.
The Stars will look for their fourth-straight NLC crown today at 2 p.m. against Colony. The Grizzlies are in search of their second-straight state berth when they face Kenai in the third-place match at 10 a.m.
Everything pointed to a Stars' victory early on, as Wolfe converted a cross from Skylar Shaw in the 19th minute for a 1-0 lead.
But just five minutes later, SoHi handled the ball in the penalty area, leading to a successful conversion by Sage Allen.
The Grizzlies pressed hard to take the lead in the next five minutes culminating in an open shot in front by Grace's Morgan Lash that was turned away by a diving save from Katelynn Kerkvliet.
"You could see at the beginning that both teams were tight," Grace coach Chris Seidl said. "I think (Soldotna) relaxed a little quicker.
"Once they got that goal, I think we turned it around."
SoHi coach Jimmy Love had seen enough, so Wolfe went from being a scorer to a stopper. She moved back to center defense to calm the Grizzlies attack.
"I was happy to go back because I can see the field better," Wolfe said. "I can talk to my teammates and tell them where they need to be."
Love said SoHi's defense was struggling with positioning, particularly in the first half. He said defenders were pushing up the field too far, and Grace continuously tried to take advantage by playing the ball into all that open space.
"One advantage I have is that I have a player like that that I can put back there," Love said.
Wolfe stayed on defense through the first half. For the second half, Love made the needed adjustments on defense. That allowed him to move Wolfe back up front, where it didn't take her long to go back to creating scoring chances.
Eight minutes into the second half, Kerkvliet cut loose with a booming punt. Wolfe was the first to chase down the kick, and gained control in the penalty area. She played the ball back to Taryn McCubbins, who gave Soldotna the lead.
"That was a long play," Wolfe said. "I was tired after that. I didn't have the angle for that shot, so I looked for the pass."
In the 69th minute, Wolfe's sister, Kylee, got into the scoring act to ice the game. Early in the second half, Wolfe had left the game with a muscle spasm in her diaphragm. She proved she was back when a blast from well outside the penalty area handcuffed Grace goalie Katelyn Houston and found its way into the net for a 3-1 game.
It was the only blip in an outstanding game by both goalies.
Kerkvliet was aggressive out of her box, picking off many of the through balls the Grizzlies attempted. Seidl said Shannon McNamara and Katrina Wood were effective feeding those balls forward. And when Grace did get to those balls, they had to get them past Kerkvliet's tall frame.
"She's a goalie that makes you place the ball around her, and we did not do that today," Seidl said.
Love told Kerkvliet she had to own the field, and she responded.
"She communicated and helped us out," Miranda Wolfe said.
SoHi's Julie Litchfield directed an attack from the midfield that likes to go wide and cross the ball into dangerous areas. Houston was able to wade out into bodies time and time again to get at least a fist on the ball to throw Soldotna off.
"Katelyn has always been that way for Grace," Love said. "She's very vocal, active and physical."
Seidl said he thought the game featured two of the conference's top three goalies, with the other being Nikiski's Rachel Thompson. Houston will play soccer at the University of South Carolina next year.