In Northern Lights Conference play at Soldotna on Friday, soccer showed it is a game that can be decided by one unfortunate bounce or one dominant performance.
The girls contest against Grace Christian saw Kylee Wolfe notch three goals and an assist as the Stars cruised to a 5-0 win and 11-0 overall record.
In the boys game, the Grizzlies squeezed out a 2-1 win when an awkward bounce with less than 10 minutes to play resulted in a hand ball, a penalty kick and the game-winner.
The SoHi girls remained perfect because the Grizzlies were unable to keep the Wolfes at bay. In addition to Kylee’s heroics, Alyssa Wolfe, Kylee’s sister, was able to notch a pair of goals.
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said he knew coming into the game that Grace’s formation would leave Soldotna some space on the outside.
“We wanted to get the ball outside to Kylee and (Kelci) Benson,” Love said.
Just five minutes into the game, Skylar Shaw found Kylee on the outside, and her cross to Alyssa was banged into the back of the net.
In the 11th minute, the SoHi coaches started begging the Stars to switch fields to Kylee. When Delaney Love did switch the field, Kylee promptly carried the ball into the box and made it 2-0.
Love said the nice thing about his team is there are a number of players, like Julie Litchfield, that can have dominant performances that decide games.
“Kylee is this quiet killer,” Love said. “Julie is loud and demands the ball, but Kylee doesn’t do that, and somehow the ball always ends up at her feet.”
In the 30th minute, Olivia Conradi got the ball to Kylee again, and she rocketed a shot from outside the box into the net.
“She’s fast and has a good shot,” Grace coach Marta Sanchez said after falling to 7-2-1. “Anyone with that skill set is going to be hard to keep down.”
SoHi finished up its first-half scoring in the 38th minute, when Benson played a nice ball to Conradi, who made a nice flick to Alyssa.
“Everybody worked hard, and I think it was one of the better games we played,” Kylee said. “We played with good chemistry, we passed well and we used the whole field.”
In the second half, the lone goal would come when Alyssa and Conradi sprang Kylee into the box again.
Kylee said the Stars have a tendency to play just one half and play down to the level of competition, but she didn’t think that happened Friday. She just thought Grace stepped it up a bit.
The Grizzlies hit construction and were late in arriving to the game, forcing the contest to start over 30 minutes late. Add in the near-70-degree heat and the tough competition, and the Grizzlies had a lot thrown at them in a short period of time.
“They are really physical, and my team hasn’t encountered that a lot,” Sanchez said. “Plus, this heat was a lot for these Alaska girls.”
Love also was OK with the level of play in the second half and continues to think his team is rounding into shape for the conference tournament.
“We got to work on the small things, like passing to space and making off-the-ball runs,” he said. “There are still things we need to work on.”
Katelynn Kerkvliet had three saves in recording the shutout.
Grace boys 2, Soldotna 1
This game was about as even as they come.
Both teams had four solid shots on net, with Grace goalie Ryan Sheldon and SoHi goalie Kayne North coming up with three big saves.
Grace took four corner kicks in the game, while SoHi had three. The goal kicks were 15 for Grace and 13 for SoHi.
But the difference came in the 73rd minute, with the game knotted at 2-1, when SoHi’s Ricky Nelson went to trap the ball in the corner of the box and the ball took a bad hop off his arm.
The penalty kick was awarded and Coby Smith converted for the edge.
Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers said Nelson played a good game and the hand ball was just bad luck.
“Nobody likes to lose on a penalty kick,” Siemers said after dropping to 5-4-2.
Grace Christian coach T.J. Smith said the important thing is Smith converted the kick.
“That’s the game,” he said. “It’s a game where you have to capitalize on your opportunities.
“Sometimes it’s the other team that happens to get an opportunity like that, but today it was us.”
After SoHi had a goal called off in the opening minute due to a hand ball, a call Siemers said he agreed with, Grace started the scoring in the ninth minute.
Smith uncorked a long throw-in into the box, where it bounced through a crowd to the sure finish of Robby Sanders.
“That’s Soccer 101,” Siemers said. “You can’t let the ball bounce on your own 18, and they capitalized.”
SoHi came back just eight minutes later when Ty Fenton dropped the ball just outside the corner of the box to Jacob O’Lena, whose shot was true to the far-side netting.
Smith, who expects to be the No. 3 seed out of the Northern Division, said his team had two 15-minute lapses, one 20 minutes into the first half and another 10 minutes into the second half. The coach said at times his squad struggled with the small, fast pitch at SoHi.
Siemers said the problem was the Stars didn’t turn possession into points.
“Possessing the ball hasn’t been a major issue,” Siemers said. “It’s getting into scoring opportunities, creating up front and actually finishing.”
Both goalies had big saves in the second half to preserve the tie. In the 49th minute, Grace’s Joel Santos got loose at the top of the box and ripped a shot that North was able to get in front of.
In the 66th minute, Fenton touched a ball on to Charalambos Asimakopoulos, whose shot was turned aside by Sheldon. Kyle North had a crack at the rebound for Soldotna, but couldn’t convert.
Sheldon had been hurt in a scramble in the box at the end of the first half.
“He did a good job getting his head back in the game,” Smith said. “Goalkeeper is a tough position.”