The Homer girls soccer team picked the perfect day to play its best soccer of the year.
The Mariners, the No. 3 seed from the Southern Division, knocked off Wasilla and Palmer Friday at the Region III Championships to earn a berth in the state tournament and a spot in Saturday's tournament championship.
Homer played the type of soccer that, before Friday, coach Mickey Todd and assistant coach Wendy Todd had only seen in their minds, and not on the field.
"Wendy and I always thought this team had good potential to be competitive in the region," Mickey Todd said. "We hadn't proven that until today.
"We played our best soccer of the year today, especially against Wasilla."
The Mariners notched a 3-0 victory over the higher-seeded Warriors at Skyview High School. Homer had such a cushion in the second half that Todd was able to play six subs, crucial because Homer would have a game just hours later against Palmer.
The Moose, meanwhile, had to play 20 extra minutes of overtime soccer before eventually defeating Kenai on penalty kicks.
"We have 14 girls we carry with us on the team, and 11 of them are on the field," Palmer coach Brian Fish said. "I think fatigue caught up with us against Homer."
The Homer-Palmer game didn't feature a ton of high-quality scoring chances as both teams had trouble controlling the ball due to a strong wind and a hard field that was mostly devoid of grass.
The game came down to two plays. In the first half, Palmer had the wind at its back. In the 22nd minute, Palmer sent a high, looping kick toward Homer senior goalie Chaunna Dietz.
Dietz charged the ball, but it struck the turf and bounced over her head, seemingly ticketed for the mouth of the goal.
"You could see it coming," Todd said of the play. "Wendy and I were yelling, 'Watch the bounce. Watch the bounce.'"
After the ball bounced, Dietz recovered, ran backward and somehow managed to swat the ball out of the mouth of the goal with her hand.
"I didn't realize where the ball was when I hit it," said Dietz, who just started playing goalie this year. "I just hit it."
Todd said he would like to think Dietz's save came from some work on similar situations Dietz did in practice last week.
However, the coach said it probably stemmed from the fact that Dietz is a setter for the volleyball team and has some of the softest hands he's seen on a female athlete.
"To be able to bat a ball out of the net like that, that's volleyball," Todd said.
The play was key because it kept Palmer from getting a goal in the first half while the wind was at its back. In the second half, a tired Palmer team would have to work against the wind.
"We were subbing in at outside half and giving our strikers a few breaks," Todd said. "We knew they were starting to look tired."
Due to solid defense in the center of the field by sophomores Jessica Spannagel and Ashlee McLaughlin, Palmer managed to hold Homer at bay until the 38th minute.
In the 38th minute came the second crucial play of the game. Homer's Hannah Baechler sent the ball into the penalty area, where Syverine Abrahamson chased it down.
Abrahamson played the ball past Palmer's charging goalie to Chantrelle Cousins, who booted the ball into an empty net for the match-winner.
What did Cousins think when she saw the free ball, and with it a state berth, crossing the empty net?
"Just go," Cousins said. "I just smashed in there trying to score."
Dietz held on for the last couple of minutes to record her second straight shutout of the tournament.
"I love my defense," Dietz said. "The whole team does a really good job of keeping the ball away from me."
Colony girls 6, Grace Christian 1
The Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead Friday en route to rolling into Saturday's championship game. Amanda Deml had a hat trick in the game for Colony.
Sianna Garrod put Colony on top immediately, scoring in the game's first minute. Before halftime, Kelly Quinn and Deml also added goals.
Grace's Ally Erving drew the Grizzlies within 3-1 with a goal in the 50th minute, but Deml scored goals in the 53rd and 71st minutes to give Colony some breathing room. Cherly Bohmbach finished up the scoring for Colony with a goal in the 74th minute.
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