After graduating five seniors from last year's Soldotna boys basketball team -- the 2009 state champion runners-up -- earning back-to-back state berths was, well, unlikely.
"Nobody projected us to be here," said Stars head coach Matt Johnson after losing to Colony in the third-place game on Wednesday at the Sullivan Arena. "We lost five of our top six minute guys."
But after losing to Dimond 55-52 in overtime in the 2009 title game, SoHi was determined to get back to state. In the third meeting of the two teams this season, Colony beat SoHi 59-54 in overtime in the Northern Lights Conference semifinals on March 5. The Stars punched their ticket to state with a convincing win over Kenai Central in the NLC third-place game.
As underdogs coming into the state tournament, Soldotna had a rematch with Dimond in the first round of the 2010 state tourney. Like last year, the Lynx and Stars needed extra time to determine a winner. It was SoHi this year that emerged victorious with a stunning 78-76, double-overtime win over Dimond on Monday. On Tuesday, SoHi again went to extra time against NLC foe Wasilla in the semifinals. The Warriors won 49-46. The Stars played their third consecutive overtime game against the Knights on Wednesday, losing 58-53.
SoHi finished its season as the fifth-best Class 4A boys team in the state, but was as close as can be to returning to the finals for the second straight year.
Johnson said his team worked to its full potential this year. He said earning consecutive state berths shows SoHi's basketball program is on the right track and hopes more kids will want to be a part of it.
Work ethic is what earned the Stars a return trip to state, Johnson said.
"It comes down to hard work," he said.
Playing as a team gave SoHi success, said Stars senior captain Boomer Blossom.
"We just all work together," Blossom said. "A lot of us have been playing together since Boys and Girls Club."
Like Johnson, Stars captain Blaine Carver said his team wasn't expected to go to state, let alone get an upset.
"I'm superproud of my team," Carver said. "It showed a lot of heart on our team."
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