The girls soccer teams from the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division will be looking to continue a trend at the conference tournament today, Friday and Saturday in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys.
The Southern Division boys teams want to break a trend.
Last year at the tournament, the Soldotna girls won their second NLC title in three years. Kenai Central picked up the conference title two years ago, giving the Southern Division the last three titles.
"We've had a good thing going the last three years," Soldotna coach Mike Tovoli said of the Southern Division. "We'd like to continue that tradition. That's a sign of great things for soccer on the Kenai Peninsula."
The Soldotna girls have put themselves in position to continue that tradition. Nobody from the NLC came within a goal of the Stars this year as they rolled up a 10-1 overall record and outscored the competition 46-6.
For the Southern Division boys, the trend has been different. Last season, all four Southern Division teams were eliminated with a loss on the first day.
This year, all four of the Southern Division teams lost to their first-round Northern Division opponents during the regular season.
"We made it to state the previous three years, but last year we didn't make it past the first round," Soldotna boys coach Jeff Siemers said. "Going all the way up to the Valley to play one game is not what we're looking to do. We want to come out and make it a game-filled weekend."
The tournament has four girls games and four boys games today. The loser of those games is eliminated. The winners of Friday's semifinals qualify for state and play for the title on Saturday. The semifinal losers play for the third and final state berth on Saturday.
The following is a closer look at the first-round matchups:
Soldotna girls vs. Grace Christian, 1 p.m. at Palmer
The Stars are the No. 1 seed from the south, while Grace is No. 4 in the north.
The Stars opened their season by defeating Grace 4-0.
"I still feel confident we should do fairly well and come away with a victory," Tovoli said. "We've had a chance to grow and learn since that game, and I think we've gotten much better."
Tovoli said the key will be playing as a team and quick passing, as opposed to a lot of individual dribbling.
Kaili Sholin and Kaitlyn Van Meter will look to control the center of the midfield, while Tovoli will count on Julie Litchfield and Kylee Wolfe for their versatility.
Goalie Rebecca Satathite and defenders Wolfe, Kylee Woodford, Delaney Love and Erica Byerly have had shutouts in their last four games.
Finally, the Stars need forwards T'essa Tovoli, Sydney Goggia and Kendra Currier to create scoring chances.
"There's no medal for being undefeated (in the NLC) in the regular season," Tovoli said. "We have to show up all three days and take nothing for granted."
The Kardinals are the No. 2 seed from the south and have a 4-3-3 overall record. Palmer is the No. 3 seed from the north.
The two teams played to a scoreless tie earlier this season in a game that is a microcosm of Kenai's season.
"We actually had the upper hand as far as attempts on goal and things like that," Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said. "We had three or four point-blank shots in front of their goal, but we had a tough day putting the ball in the net."
Verkuilen said his defense has been solid all year. He said the forwards also have actually done a great job creating opportunities. He said the problem has been finishing.
At this tournament, he said Allie McGahan and Taylor Ostrander will be pivotal in the midfield. If Jenna Calhoun or Lauren Schams get hot at forward, Kenai becomes dangerous.
"I've seen these girls play at high speed before and score," Verkuilen said. "They play a nice game when they get that vibe going."
The Bulldogs, with a 3-7-1 overall record, are the No. 3 seed from the south. Wasilla is No. 2 from the north.
The Bulldogs lost 5-0 to Wasilla earlier this year.
"It was the third game of our big Valley trip," Nikiski coach Mandy Adair said. "We were pretty banged up and had a couple starters out. All the girls were pretty tired. I don't think it was a good representation."
Adair wants to put more pressure on Wasilla's goalie and defense this time. Nikiski changed from a two-forward alignment to a three-forward alignment after the Wasilla game, and the new alignment has worked well.
Leading scorer Britany Tuttle did not play against Wasilla. Bailey Buchholz also has been finding the back of the net for the Bulldogs lately.
Angie Parrish anchors Nikiski in net, while Adair said right midfielder Minna Bogard does a good job of setting the tone and winning 50-50 balls.
Nikiski is looking for its first victory in the NLC tourney.
The Panthers, the No. 4 seed from the south, lost to the Knights, the north's top seed, 3-2 earlier this year. It took a Colony goal in the final minutes of the game to get the win.
Goalie Amanda McDowell did not play in the Colony game.
"She's really confident," Carpenter said of McDowell. "I'm excited to see what she can do."
Carpenter said he hasn't had a goalie take charge like this since Matt Stalnik helped guide the Skyview boys to a third-place state finish in 2004. That finish remains the high-water mark for Peninsula soccer.
Colony is known as a physical team, but Carpenter said forwards Alicia West and Nicole Tromblee can play a physical game. Megan Janorschke and Tamlyn Silva also can be physical on defense.
The Panthers will be looking for their first victory at the NLC tournament.
The Mariners, the top seed from the south, lost 1-0 earlier this season to Palmer, the No. 4 seed from the north.
Homer had played Nikiski on Thursday and Colony on Friday before the Palmer game.
"Both of our starting forwards were unavailable for the Palmer game," Homer coach Warren Waldorf wrote in an email. "We're rested now and ready to play."
Players that will be central to Homer's tournament effort are goalie Grant Arseneau, defenders Andre Lovett and Konstantin Reutov, midfielders Robin Glosser and Kyle Wisner, and forwards Carson Duggar and Bjorn Klaar.
"And our supporting cast is stronger and deeper than it's been for as long as I've been in Homer," Waldorf wrote. "After losing by one to Wasilla last Saturday, it's easy for me to believe we haven't yet played our best soccer."
The Stars, the No. 2 seed from the south, were shut out by the Warriors, the No. 3 seed from the north, earlier this year.
Soldotna did find its scoring touch in the last game of the regular season, notching a 7-3 victory over Palmer behind Cory Carver's five goals.
"We need to continue to put the ball in the net," Siemers said.
The coach said the team needs solid play from Daniel Koch and Tate Syverson in the midfield. Keely Abendroth and Dawson Pearson must be stingy on defense.
The Bulldogs, the No. 3 seed from the south, face a tough task against Grace, the No. 2 seed from the north. The Grizzlies cruised to a shutout victory over Nikiski earlier this season.
The Bulldogs will be looking for their first victory in tournament history.
"That's always our goal -- pretty much to get to the tournament, then get past the first game of the tournament," Nikiski coach Jim Coburn said.
The coach said the Bulldogs must trust each other and play together or they don't have a chance. He said every player on the field will be key.
Coburn said the Bulldogs finally got everybody healthy for a 4-0 victory over Seward on Saturday. He said that was the first time this year his team was fully healthy.
The Kardinals, the No. 4 seed from the south, lost to the top-seeded Knights 3-0 last weekend.
"We're optimistic," Kenai coach David Landry said. "We always know when we go in we're going to have to beat one of the better teams. We might as well get No. 1 out of the way to begin with."
The Kardinals have not been to state since 2008. Landry said the team is anxious to get back.
Most of the team came into this season with little or no varsity experience, so Landry said his squad is peaking for the conference tournament.
"New teams are hard to get broken in," Landry said. "We'll be starting our ninth different lineup on Thursday."
The coach said it all starts with goalie James Watkins in the back, as well as defenders Keegan Remsen, Josh McKee and Evan Atchley.
Avery Palchikoff and Alex Springer will patrol the midfield, while forwards Jake Iverson, Kyle Scarlett and Tye Hayes will be counted on for scoring.
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