Peninsula teams enjoy home cookin'

Southern Division teams will defend home turf at Region III tournament

Posted: Friday, May 14, 2004

When the Region III soccer tournament kicks off today in Kenai, the peninsula's qualifiers will be defending their home turf a welcome change after seven of the eight Southern Division participants were eliminated in the first round at last season's tournament in Palmer.

"We don't have to go to another school and spend the night. We get to spend the night in our own beds. It's like a home game for us," said Nikiski boys coach Jim Coburn. "There will be a lot more parents and fans at the game because they don't have to travel very far."

In addition to the bus lag from the drive to the Valleys, peninsula teams also were distracted with graduation ceremonies. Kenai, for example, left at 6 a.m. the morning after commencement to play matches at noon.

Region III Soccer Tournament

Friday and Saturday hosted by Kenai Central

(All games at Kenai unless noted)

GIRLS

Friday's games

Quarterfinals

Game 1 Palmer vs. Kenai, 10 a.m.

Game 2 Homer vs. Wasilla at Skyview, 10 a.m.

Game 3 Colony vs. Skyview, noon

Game 4 Soldotna vs. Grace, noon

Semifinals

Game 5 Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 5 p.m.

Game 6 Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.

Saturday's games

Third place Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 10 a.m.

Championship Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 1 p.m.

BOYS

Friday's games

Quarterfinals

Game 1 Grace Christian vs. Nikiski at Soldotna, 10 a.m.

Game 2 Soldotna vs. Colony, 10 a.m.

Game 3 Palmer vs. Homer at Skyview, noon

Game 4 Skyview vs. Wasilla at Soldotna, noon

Semifinals

Game 5 Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 5 p.m.

Game 6 Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.

Saturday's games

Third place Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 10 a.m.

Championship Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 3 p.m.

(All games at Kenai unless noted)

This year, graduation ceremonies for central peninsula schools aren't until the last week in May, meaning players can focus on their soccer for the weekend.

"This is a blessing," said Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen of being able to host the tournament and avoid competing with graduation for his players' attention.

After all, playing in the tournament is a hard enough task by itself. Not only must players crank it up a notch as the competition heats up, they also must play two matches on Friday if they hope to earn one of the region's three boys and three girls berths in the state tournament.

Friday morning's opening-round is an elimination round, cutting the fields from eight teams to four. Friday evening's semifinals kick off about five hours after the end of the first-round games. Semifinal losers still have a shot at a state berth on Saturday's third-place games while semifinal winners are guaranteed a week-long season extension.

Grace Christian boys vs. Nikiski, 10 a.m. at Soldotna

The Bulldogs finished 3-2 in the Southern Division to earn their highest seed ever at the tournament. The Grizzlies, with a 2-1-1 record, are the No. 3 seed from the north.

Grace defeated Nikiski 4-1 earlier in the season in a game that left a bad taste in Nikiski coach Jim Coburn's mouth.

"I'm excited to have Grace because I felt like we played one of our worst games of the year against them," Coburn said. "I'd like to have a chance to give them our best game."

Nikiski will get a boost from the return of senior Jeremiah Taylor. Taylor tied for the team lead in goals last season but has missed the entire season after breaking his leg during basketball season.

Colony boys vs. Soldotna, 10 a.m. at Kenai

The Stars had the No. 3 seed locked up after tying Homer on Monday, but then had to forfeit the game to the Mariners after it was found that Soldotna had played with an ineligible player.

That dropped the Stars into the No. 4 seed. They will battle Colony, the No. 1 seed from the north and the defending region champion.

The Stars also suffered another blow in that game against Homer when Johnny Mills, one of Soldotna's best scoring threats and playmakers, was issued a red card. That means Mills will not be available for the game against Colony.

Palmer boys vs. Homer, Noon at Skyview

The Mariners come in as the No. 3 seed with a 3-2 record in the region, while Palmer is the No. 2 seed from the north with a 2-1-1 record.

The two teams have not faced each other all year. Homer has only played eight games thus far this year. After a slow start, coach Mike Olson said his team is ready to hit its stride.

"I think we can hang with anybody out there," Olson said. "We have yet to get beat, but we've beaten ourselves on a number of occasions.

"We have to correct those few mental mistakes we're always making."

Skyview boys vs. Wasilla, Noon at Soldotna

The Panthers posted a 9-1 overall record this season and earned the division's top seed with a 5-0 mark on the peninsula. Skyview's lone loss was at the hands of Wasilla early in the season in Wasilla, but the Panthers feel they've got the Warriors figured out after posting a win against them at home last week.

Skyview had trouble scoring in a win against Kenai to close out the regular season Monday, but coach Dave Carpenter said his squad was looking forward to the tournament.

"The midfield played fine and the defense is fine," Carpenter said. "(Kenai) got a couple of good looks, but Matt (Stalnick, Skyview's goalkeeper) covered up those."

Palmer girls vs. Kenai, 10 a.m. at Kenai

The Kardinals open the tournament on a roll after defeating Skyview Monday.

"It's nice not to go in against a No. 1," said coach Dan Verkuilen of his squad, which secured a No. 3 seed with a 3-1-1 division record.

Verkuilen said his defensive unit was new this season and was a work in progress, but added that his speedy forwards were as good as any the Kardinals will see in the tournament.

"It's just a matter of aggressive play, and they're starting to come on," Verkuilen said.

Verkuilen said his squad will be focused on winning balls, especially in the middle of the field, and not shying away.

Wasilla girls vs. Homer, 10 a.m. at Skyview

The Mariners are flying high after defeating Soldotna on Monday to take the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division. Homer finished 4-0-1 in the region, while Wasilla earned the No. 4 seed from the north with a 1-3 record.

Homer defeated Wasilla 4-3 earlier in the season. Not only do the Mariners have a potent offense that has scored 34 goals this season, but Homer also has a defense that has produced five shutouts.

"We haven't played a lot of games this season," Homer coach Mickey Todd said. "We're waiting to peak.

"Hopefully, we'll peak at regions and be able to make it to state."

Grace girls vs. Soldotna, Noon at Kenai

These two teams played to a 0-0 tie early in the season, so there is some unfinished business for both sides. Soldotna is the No. 2 seed from the south with a 4-1 record, while Grace is the No. 3 seed from the north with a 3-1 record.

Soldotna had a perfect division record until Monday, when Homer defeated them 2-0. Midfielder Annie Penner said that may have been just what the team needed heading into the region tournament in order to get them fired up.

"We have a decent chance at regions, but we'll have to work pretty hard," Penner said.

She also added that if Soldotna can get deep into the tournament, the Stars should have an advantage due to their tremendous depth.

Colony girls vs. Skyview, noon at Kenai

The Panthers snapped a scoring drought in time for the tournament, but will face top seed and defending region champion Colony in the opening round. Skyview claimed the division's No. 4 seed with a 1-3-1 mark against peninsula competition. Colony went 3-1 in Northern Division play and is 5-2-1 overall.

The Panthers have been led on the field this season by Ginny Berg while Jenny Andrus has kept Skyview in games with her play in goal.



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