WASILLA -- During the days leading up to the conference tournament, Wasilla head coach Amber Craig's message to her players was simple -- finish.
Finish shots. Finish opportunities. Finish matches.
It may have taken the Warriors awhile Thursday, but after playing through a long stalemate with Nikiski, Wasilla scored three goals during extra time to grab a 4-1 overtime win over the Bulldogs in the quarterfinal round of the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Colony High School.
After the conference rivals played through 80 minutes of regulation tied at 1, senior Amy Jo Coonrod scored the go-ahead goal during the ninth minute of the first overtime period and senior Kendra Miner added a pair of goals during the second overtime frame to ice the win over the Bulldogs and help the Warriors move into NLC semifinal match with Soldotna today at 11 a.m. at CHS. The Stars defeated Grace Christian 1-0 on Thursday.
"It's a one-loss elimination (tournament). We didn't want our season to end this early," Miner said after the victory. "We knew we had to keep pushing, otherwise we'd be out of the tournament, out of regions and out of state. (The) seniors especially do not want that."
The score was knotted at 1 at the end of regulation, despite Wasilla's constant pressure on the Nikiski net that lasted through much of the final 60 minutes of regulation. The Warriors had a number of tremendous scoring opportunities during regulation, but were held to a single goal thanks to the stellar play of Nikiski senior goalkeeper Angie Parrish.
Parrish made diving stops.
The senior left her feet to make a sprawling save of an Ashlynn Frizzelle shot during the 39th minute. She took away
attempts off corner kicks, and went to the ground a number of times to take away opportunities of the persistent Wasilla forwards.
"That's exactly what she's done all year," Nikiski head coach Mandy Adair said. "She did that all last year for us. She's solid back there."
Nikiski took the early lead in the match when senior Britany Tuttle placed a shot over the head of Wasilla senior goalkeeper Kamarae Kaina during the 10th minute. Miner, who netted the hat trick in the win, tied the score in the 16th minute.
After junior Nikki Vanni fed a long through ball from the midfield, Miner retrieved possession, drove into the box and tapped a soft shot to the right of Parrish. It was one of two Miner goals set up by a long Vanni pass.
"Nikki had some great feeds up to her," Craig said.
The Warriors would play the final 64 minutes of regulation without another score. Miner said the Warriors had to play through the frustration of having such offensive success without many goals to show for it.
"It's frustrating for me and the whole team to know we can shoot and score. It just comes down to getting the shots and placing them," Miner said.
The Warriors were able to strike late during the first overtime. Junior Mikaela Hull put a hard shot on goal from the right side of the field beyond the penalty box during the ninth minute of the first overtime. The attempt drifted toward the far side of the net, and senior Amy Jo Coonrod crashed the net to score the go-ahead tally.
"Amy always does a good job of finishing," Craig said. "Our forwards, Amy, Reace (Morrison), Kendra, they do a great job of always being there."
Miner added insurance midway through the second overtime, taking another long Vanni feed to set up a breakaway opportunity and score.
"Kendra, I was talking about her during the coaches meeting. You put her in a breakaway situation, and she's gonna finish," Craig said.
Later in the second overtime, Morrison put a rocket on net from the right side. Parrish put both her hands up to make the save, but Miner was there to pick up the loose ball and score.
"Reace put one right on the goalie and I just crashed," Miner said. "Coach has been emphasizing that in practice -- finish, finish, finish."
Craig said she was not surprised to see an improved Nikiski side.
"One thing I told the girls at the beginning of the game, you can't expect them to be the same as they were when we played them the last time," Craig said.
Adair said, despite the loss, she was pleased with how her team battled in looking for its first NLC tourney win.
"The girls came out and fought hard. They really wanted to make a statement up here. We almost got one, we almost got it," Adair said. "Nobody expected us to even be in this game at all. But to take Wasilla to overtime is a huge statement for us as a program."
Kenai girls 3, Palmer 0
Kenai Central goals have been hard to come by lately. But on Thursday, the Kards finally found the back of the net.
Shelby Toombs converted an early penalty kick to help spark the Kardinals into the semifinals.
After playing to a scoreless tie with Palmer less than a week ago, Kenai head coach Dan Verkuilen said it was certainly key for Toombs to convert that penalty kick and take the 1-0 lead during the 16th minute.
"It was good to get that monkey off our back," Verkuilen said after the win, which moves Kenai into a semifinal match with top-seeded Colony today at 3 p.m. at Colony High School. "It gives you that little spark, and you're like, the net doesn't have a glass wall in front of it."
Annie Azzara and Raquel Reynolds also found the back of the net for the Kardinals.
"We knew we've been kind of frustrated by the lack of scoring. We had a lot of opportunities. We had quite a few opportunities the last time we played (Palmer)," Verkuilen said. "We just could not find the back of the net."
Verkuilen said Kenai expected a similar game to the scoreless tie, but the Kards know anything can happen in the tournament.
"Regional games are funny. You see them a week ago and you come to regions and it's a whole different deal," Verkuilen said.
After taking the 1-0 lead in the 16th minute, Kenai needed only six more minutes to push the advantage to a pair of goals. The Kenai midfielders fed a ball forward to Azzara, who used her left foot to put a shot past Palmer goalkeeper Morgan Morfe.
Late in the game, Reynolds capped the scoring thanks to a play set up by a Caitlin Wooley cross.
Coming up the right side of the field, Wooley crossed the ball. Jenna Calhoun deflected the ball to the far post, where Reynolds was able to crash and score.
Verkuilen said teamwork was key in the win.
"It was a lot of individual effort the first time we played them, but today it was much more of a team effort," Verkuilen said.
Sidney Taylor earned the shutout in the Kenai goal.
"The defense was real solid," said Verkuilen, who also credited the work of Taylor Ostrander and Allie McGahan in the midfield.
While Kenai moves on, Palmer, the third seed in the North Division, was forced to see its season come to an end on the first day of the three-day NLC Championships. Palmer head coach Harmony Chadwick said seeing her two seniors, Kendal Venzke and Megan Stark, play their last game is the hardest part of the loss.
"The thought of them not making through is what I'm most bummed about," Chadwick said. "They don't have another game. They deserve another game."
Soldotna girls 1, Grace Christian 0
Kaili Sholin scored in the 50th minute to get the Stars through into today's semifinal with Wasilla.
No team in the NLC came within a goal of the Stars in the regular season, but that quickly changed in the tournament.
"We did not play championship soccer today," Soldotna coach Mike Tovoli said. "We played lackluster soccer. We showed up and assumed this team would lie down for us."
The Stars collected their fifth straight shutout as they search for their third NLC title in four years.
"After today, I'm worried about even making the state tournament," Tovoli said. "If we play like this tomorrow, we'll be playing in the third-place game just trying to get a trip to state."
Colony girls 5, Skyview 0
The Panthers kept it close for more than 60 minutes, but the Knights pulled away after a Skyview own goal to advance to the semifinals.
"We're eating away our sorrows," Skyview coach David Carpenter said by phone from Red Robin on Thursday.
With the score 1-0 in the 65th minute, the ball bounced off the head of a Skyview player and into the Panthers' goal past keeper Amanda McDowell. Carpenter said the exchange triggered a chain of negative events for Skyview.
"You could see their posture change, their attitude change," Carpenter said.
The coach credited Nicole Tromblee for creating scoring chances by pushing the ball deep into Colony territory and sending accurate crosses into the box. Carpenter also said Megan Janorschke played a tough game, drawing the defensive assignment on Colony's top scorer.
And although the score didn't show it, the coach added that it was a competitive game.
"It's a terrible score for the game it actually was," Carpenter said. "It was such a better game than the score."
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