Soccer teams on the Kenai Peninsula, now in their fourth year as a full varsity sport, are beginning to make an impact on the rest of the state.
The evidence? How about three peninsula teams making the trip to the Alaska School Activities Association State Soccer Championships, kicking off today at Wasilla and Colony high schools.
The Homer Mariners make their first trip to the state tournament on the girls side, beating out the only other peninsula team to go to state in the three-year history of the state tournament, the Kenai Central Kardinals.
On the boys side, the Kardinals will go to their third-straight state tournament after beating Skyview to clinch third at last weekend's region championships, but Kenai will have company from the peninsula for the first time -- the Soldotna Stars defeated the Kardinals last week to punch their ticket to state, then beat Colony to claim the region title.
The Stars entered the region tournament with an overall season record of 7-2-1 and a 3-1-1 mark in Region III Southern Division play. Soldotna went undefeated in region tournament play, though the Stars did need the penalty kick shootout to beat to break their 2-2 tie after 20 minutes of overtime against the Kardinals.
The Stars open the tournament against West at 4 p.m. at Wasilla. The Eagles have an overall record of 6-5-0.
Kenai clinched the Southern Division's top seed in the region tournament with a 4-1 record in division play, losing only to the Stars, and notched an 8-2 overall record. The Stars only loss in the region tournament also came at the hands of Soldotna.
Kenai opens the state tournament at 2 p.m. at Colony against perennial power Service. The Cougars are 10-1-0 this season.
The Homer girls face last year's runner-up in Dimond today at 6 p.m. at Wasilla. The Mariners knocked off Wasilla and Palmer in the region tournament before losing to Colony in the region final.
Homer was 3-4-1 overall during the regular season, leveling its record at 5-5-1 after the region tournament.
"I think our kids have finally started playing better soccer," said Homer coach Mickey Todd. "The season is so short, especially this year, that by the time we get to regions, teams are just figuring out how to play the game."
Dimond now stands at 4-5-2 overall after starting the season 0-3. Todd said he didn't have much of a scouting report on the Lynx.
"We have some feelers out there, but I would say we just have to go up and play our game of soccer," Todd said. "Their team speed is probably a little better than ours, so we're going to have to really mark and make sure our positioning on the field is good, play some ball control and pass to feet.
"The girls are really excited. We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."
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