The Soldotna girls grabbed third-place honors at the ASAA state soccer tournament Saturday with a 3-2 win over Colony, and like many of their recent games, they made it interesting for the fans.
Under sun-soaked skies at Chugiak High School, the Stars netted two first-half goals, only to watch the Knights rally back in the second half to tie it.
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love, who had his team working feverishly all week on finishing shots such as corner kicks, said he was pleased with the play he saw in the first half.
“We were talking about that yesterday, coming out and playing our game,” Love said. “I think we did for the most part in the first half, we didn’t get some things to go our way, but we were leading by two goals going into halftime.”
For Soldotna, it’s redemption, as the win came one week after the Knights toppled the Stars for the Northern Lights Conference championship in a 2-1 game.
“I told the girls afterward that we finally own third, we’re not sharing it with anyone,” Love said. “I’m not sure if I’m as happy with finishing third as I am about beating (Colony). We’ll take both, though.”
SoHi managed to score on its first shot attempt only two minutes into the game, as sophomore striker Miranda Wolfe received an assist from senior Molly Fenton from midfield and found enough space between her and the Colony goalkeeper to easily put the Stars up early.
It wasn’t until the final minute of the first half when Wolfe was fouled in Colony’s penalty box, which led to a penalty kick. Wolfe’s strike cleanly made it in for a 2-0 lead at halftime, and the fourth goal of the tournament for her.
At halftime, Soldotna seemingly had the upper hand, having taken nine shots on goal compared to three from Colony.
“The second half is generally our half, and we came out flat,” Love said. “I don’t even think it was flat, I think it was even less than that. I mean, we totally went out and played Colony’s game, and it was like we were going to sit on our 2-0 lead and that was going to be enough.”
A mere four minutes into the second half, Colony’s Peyton Johnstone found the ball with space to work with and scored, and three minutes after that the Knights nearly had another goal, as the ball bounced off the left post but stayed clear of the net.
Rebecca Mackey finally knotted the game up in the 61st minute off a cross from a teammate that had SoHi goalie Katelynn Kerkvliet looking.
“We went back to our normal formation, the 4-4-2, which we worked out well,” Love said. “I think we handled the pressure today well, and it was a different kind of pressure today.”
The added offensive pressure the Stars began using on Saturday paid off with five minutes left in the game on a corner kick.
Julie Litchfield directed the kick toward the throng of players in front of the net, and junior Kelci Benson managed to place herself in the perfect position to knock the ball in for the game-winning shot.
“We just practiced on finishing, and (assistant coach) Scott (Levesque) has told me all season, ‘Back post, back post’, and I deflected it, and it was a nice cross from Julie,” Benson said after the game. “We just had to stick together and play as a team.”
The Stars bench erupted in celebration, albeit nervous celebration.
“I don’t know if I can describe the feeling, it was unreal,” Love said. “It was like, ‘We got the lead, can we hold it?’
“At that point, we didn’t need another goal, we needed numbers behind the ball, to keep them from scoring.”
When the whistle finally sounded, it signaled the best finish the SoHi girls have earned at the state tournament since the competition was organized statewide in 2000.
“We made history. Last year, we had to share third place, but this year it’s ours,” Benson said.
In championship action Saturday, the South boys won the state title by defeating Colony 3-0, and the Dimond girls won the state title by topping Service 3-1.