Over the course of the season, the Soldotna girls have grown accustomed to scoring in bunches.
When one comes, more are sure to follow.
The Stars did that again on Thursday, netting three goals in a seven-minute stretch early in the first half against Grace Christian.
Now, they're just one flurry away from their first ever trip to the state tournament.
"It's funny how this team works," said SoHi co-head coach Mike Tovoli following his team's 7-0 rout in the opening round of the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Soldotna. "It seems like we get a goal within the first 12 minutes, then it seems like we put two or three right in a row, which is strange to me, but that's the pattern. That's the pattern all season.
"Once they feel that first goal, they get that much more excited and they really want to go score more," he added. "Hopefully that continues."
There's really no reason to believe it won't.
Freshman Kaili Sholin and sophomore Jenna Redford each scored twice and junior Jessi Stenga, sophomore Emily Rohloff and freshman Tessa Tovoli each added tallies in keeping the top-seeded Stars undefeated on the season at 10-0 with their third victory over fourth-seeded Grace this season.
"I kind of have a philosophy, and I've kind of told my girls this, is play like it's your last game. Come out and make a statement," Tovoli explained. "There's a lot of teams, people that haven't seen these girls yet this year and I told them, 'You only get once to make a first impression.' And today was their chance to make a first impression on a lot of people and I wanted them to show what this team can do."
SoHi, which scored as many goals as the three other girls' winners combined, can clinch a state tournament berth with a victory over second-seeded Colony at 3 p.m. today. And if the Knights caught their first glimpse of the Stars on Thursday, it would be difficult to not be impressed with what they saw.
"I watched Colony today and I already know what to expect from last year and some of the other things. It's a quality team," Tovoli said. "Excited to play them, haven't seen them, so it will be a test for both teams."
There was nothing new about Grace, which the Stars shut out twice this season, 4-0 and 3-0.
And Thursday was no different.
Redford opened the scoring in the sixth minute when she booted in a rebound that was dropped by the Grace keeper as Sholin also was battling for the ball.
Soldotna's patented ability to strike quick then took over as Stenga blasted in a shot from 20 yards out in the ninth minute and Sholin beat the defense to a ball in the box and chipped it over the charging keeper just three minutes later for a 3-0 cushion after only 12 minutes of action.
Sholin added her second of the game in the final minute of the first half when she dribbled through the defense and rifled a shot to the left of the Grizzlies' goaltender.
SoHi opened the second half the way it finished the first, when a Stars' cross was misplayed by the Grace defense and landed on the foot of Tovoli, who drove it into the upper netting for a commanding 5-0 advantage in the 44th minute.
Rohloff then got into the action in the 53rd when she barreled through a Sholin cross near the 6-yard line and Redford netted her second when she sent home a corner kick from Cassie Sheridan with under five minutes remaining.
Despite increasing their season total to 52 goals while allowing just three themselves, not all was perfect for the Stars, according to their coach.
"As a coach you can always find things to fault. Missed finishes, we had some balls that we didn't attack, we were hesitant, we were lackadaisical, we were trying to make the perfect pass. There was a lot of things out there that I didn't like, but we talked at halftime," Tovoli explained. "It's hard to get emotional and get upset when they did win 7-0. I can't sit here and beat them up too bad. But we've got to come and put a perfect game together tomorrow. It's a tough Colony team we're going to play and we've got to be ready for them. It's either come to play or go home and that's the way I am."
With a state trip on the line, it would be a disastrous time for the Stars to drop their first game of the season.
"It's a guaranteed state trip if we win. If we don't, then we've got to play the hard way and winner take all the next game," Tovoli said. "It'd be nice to get that one tomorrow, but that's a tough Colony team and we're looking forward to playing them."
Kenai girls 1, Palmer 0
Junior Sami Bidwell scored late in the first half and the Kardinals made the lead hold up in overcoming a heartbreaking first-round loss in last season's conference tournament.
"I was just really pleased with the whole team as a whole," said Kardinals coach Dan Verkuilen. "We talked about how it's not going to be one or two people, that was kind of, we said, our motto for a long time, is everybody needs to show up. And they did. I think everyone's head was in it. We were healthy, which makes a big difference."
After going 8-0-2 during the regular season last year and earning the top seed in the conference tournament, the Kardinals were bounced in a shootout by Wasilla.
Not this year.
In fact, second-seeded Kenai (9-1) now has a shot at revenge in today's 11 a.m. semifinal, when they square off with the top-seeded Warriors, who the Kardinals already beat 1-0 this season.
"We just laughed about it because the last four years we've played each other in regions, this is the fourth year," Verkuilen explained. "They beat us, we beat them, they beat us, so I talked to their coach and said, 'This is our year now.' It's the alternate year.
"They're going to be a good side. They're very aggressive and talented," he added. "But the girls have a good attitude about it and I think they'll play their best. That's kind of what you want."
They did on Thursday, especially the defense, which limited Palmer to a only handful of solid opportunities.
"Britt Kiser and Khelby Kennedy did a great job. Sheena Anderson was the top of our diamond there and she probably played her best game. Molly Graves on the sweep did a really nice job," he said. "(Anderson) just moved great and pushed the ball outside and went through everything. So, they never really had a chance to get going. She was just always there."
After roughly 35 minutes of scoreless action, junior Holly Perkins took a pass from junior Ashlyn Ross and crossed it to Bidwell, who protected the ball before slipping it past the Palmer keeper.
"As it came, she kind of gathered it on the outside and then she turned from behind and hit it," Verkuilen said. "She actually picked it up almost from behind her and sent it to the opposite side. It was a really nice shot. It was a volley off one bounce."
Figuring the opposition would be concentrating on Perkins and sophomore Casey Coupchiak, the Kardinals' most potent weapons, Verkuilen knew somebody else would need to step up.
"We talked about that's a time where your other players, your supporting cast, they have to do something," he said, "and that's exactly what happened."
Colony girls 2, Skyview 0
Freshman Jamie Krediet scored four minutes into the game and sophomore Jessica Farrell added a penalty shot in the 22nd in leading the second-seeded Knights to a shutout of the third-seeded Panthers.
"Two early goals. Get it done. Take care of the ball," said Colony coach Lorie Miner. "We missed several opportunities the remainder of the first half and then in the second half, too, to be able to score a few more, which would have helped us out a lot. But two goals is all it takes to win."
After falling 5-1 at home to the Knights a week ago, Skyview coach Ronnie Kier was pleased with the improvement.
"We came out and we matched intensity. We just came out and played soccer," he said. "I think the biggest thing is we were loose, we were having fun, kids just didn't put the pressure on themselves to come out and play good. They just did it. It was huge."
And once senior Michaela Hutchison arrived on the scene after attending her Connections graduation next door, Kier said the Panthers (4-6-1) elevated their play even more despite already trailing by two goals.
"You just saw a huge increase in intensity when she came in," he explained. "You could just tell that there was a different kind of energy."
Unfortunately for the Panthers, though, it didn't translate into goals.
"We just didn't get shots. Their defense swarmed our offenders. And if you don't get shots, you don't win," Kier said. "Hailey (Driver) played a great second half (in net). Our defensive intensity was there in the second half. I thought in the first half we were lackadaisical, slow to the ball and I think that all changed once Michaela came back in."
Miner also isn't quite sure what looms ahead of her team.
"We haven't seen Soldotna at all," she said as the Stars were starting their game. "This is going to be a good test for both of us -- the unknown."
Wasilla girls 4, Homer 0
The Mariners plans to make their fifth state tournament trip in the past seven years were squashed when freshman Ashlyn Frizzelle scored twice in leading the top-seeded Warriors to an easy victory.
Wasilla freshman Lina Shadrach and junior Aerial Seltenreich also found the back of the net for the Warriors.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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