All it took was one goal, but the Soldotna boys are headed to the state tournament for the first time in four years.
They did it by beating Homer 1-0 in the third-place game at the Northern Lights Conference tournament Saturday at the Kenai Soccer Complex.
“It was definitely a goal for us at the beginning of the season, and we definitely played two tough teams the last two games, with Wasilla and Homer back to back,” Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers said. “We give a lot of credit to Homer, they created a lot of good opportunities, and Kayne had a great day in goal.”
SoHi goalkeeper Kayne North saved all 18 shots on goal that the Mariners sent his way, 12 of those coming in the second half.
“I was nervous, because we haven’t gone to state in a long time,” North said. “It was pretty frantic, and it’s pretty big. It’s like a curse, we haven’t made it past the first round in a while, so this was big.”
In a game that featured a do-or-die style of play from both teams, the Stars found their chance early, getting their sole goal in the 21st minute from Charalambos Asimakopoulos, who was positioned well for a cross from a teammate.
“It was a good goal, he was able to find the net and keep it away from their keeper,” Siemers said. “It was really similar to a lot of the opportunities Homer had, we just happened to get ours in.”
Just like in Friday’s semifinal matchup with Colony, Homer found themselves down 1-0 at halftime, and Homer coach Warren Waldorf said he was proud of the effort his team put out in the second half.
“Every player on the field today gave me everything they had, especially that last 40 minutes,” Waldorf said. “We created some good opportunities today and just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Siemers sensed the urgency with which Homer was playing, and continued pressing his players to hold control.
“Oh yeah, (Homer) wanted it, they just missed the net,” he said. “They created plenty of opportunities and had possession.
“It was pins and needles. Lots of action on our end, definitely on our end, a little too much.”
Soldotna managed five shots on Homer goalkeeper Grant Arseneau in the second half, and had a total of five corner kicks in the game, compared to just one for Homer.
For the Mariners, a return trip to state was still possible until the final whistle sounded.
“We were just stepping up and playing like we can, but we were unlucky today,” Waldorf said. “So what do you do, you give it your best shot and come up short. The kids are pretty disappointed but they gave it their best effort. They just need to suck it up and move on.
“What are you supposed to do? Hang it up, go fishing and come back next year.”
Soldotna’s last trip to state — in 2009 — resulted in a seventh-place finish.
“We’ve played those other teams in the state that have played many more games this year than we have, so anytime you can win two out of three games and end on a win, you hope to keep that momentum into the state tournament,” Siemers said. “We want to work this next week on things we need to adjust and hopefully get healthy.”
Colony boys 3, Wasilla 0
The Northern Lights Conference championship was won by the Knights on Saturday, which gives them the No. 1 seed from the conference heading into the state tournament next weekend.