Soldotna's Sydney Goggia picked a great time to score her first goal of the season.
Goggia knocked in a high cross from Erica Byerley in the 74th minute to seal a 3-1 victory in Saturday's Northern Lights Conference championship game against Wasilla at the Kenai Sports Complex.
Having missed a couple point-blank chances in Friday's 3-0 semifinal win over Colony, Goggia's teammates joked with her that she was saving her first goal for the championship. Now the joke's on ... well everyone. The lightheartedness continued as the team shared applause and smiles when Stars head coach Mike Tovoli announced Goggia finally scored during the post-game team meeting.
"It happened today," Tovoli said. "She's had great opportunities. It's a great time to have it."
The win came down to determination, Goggia said.
"It took a lot of work," she said.
"Three games in a row, everyone is tired," Stars captain Emily Rohloff said. "We dug deep and gave it all we had."
"This is awesome," Goggia added. "We totally deserve it. We worked really hard."
SoHi didn't have its best showing against the Warriors, Tovoli said.
"We didn't play our best game," he said. "But, we capitalized on the opportunities that we needed to capitalize on."
Shana Powell gave the Stars a quick lead with a goal in the seventh minute. She buried a free kick inside the right goal post from the left just outside of the box. Kaili Sholin gave SoHi a 2-0 lead when she nailed a penalty kick in the top-left corner in the 21st minute.
Wasilla cut the lead in half with a penalty kick of its own. Nicole Vanni put a shot low-left in the 39th minute. It was the first goal surrendered by SoHi in the tournament. The Stars led 2-1 at the half.
SoHi keeper Heidi Westerman made a big save in the first minute of the second half to preserve her team's lead. She then blocked a close-range free kick from Wasilla's Carlee Naczi in the 49th minute.
"She did a fine job," Tovoli said of Westerman. "I can't be prouder of her."
As a first-year goalie, Westerman handled the pressure of being a keeper in a big-game situation well, Tovoli said. She also wasn't fazed by the penalty kick, he said.
Not only did Saturday's win avenge the 3-0, regular-season loss the Stars suffered to Wasilla, it was payback for last year's 3-2 overtime loss in the third-place game, Rohloff said. After winning the NLC title in 2008, SoHi did not go to state last year.
"Last year was a rough season," she said.
Rohloff said her team carried momentum over from each game of the tourney.
"We've just been on a roll," she said. "We all wanted to be No. 1."
Tovoli said he's preached winning the conference title all season.
"We've reached one of our goals," he said.
Now it's on to the next goal -- win a game at state.
"I believe that they can get a victory at state," Tovoli said. He said his team can play with anyone in the state.
Tovoli said his girls can have a little time to celebrate the win before preparing for state.
"They can enjoy it today," he said. "But come Monday, it's time to go back to work."
Colony scored two goals in the final 18 minutes of the second half to get past Kenai in the third-place game and earn a trip to Juneau for the state tournament.
Ali Baker headed a shot past Kenai keeper Sydney Taylor on a cross from Jamie Kredit to break a 1-1 tie in the 62nd minute. Kredit found the back of the net 10 minutes later to seal the victory.
Colony grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute on a goal from Jessica Parker. Off of a corner kick, both teams exchanged headers and a crowd formed in front of Kenai's net. Parker then jammed a close-ranger in the goal.
Colony's lead didn't last long. Jenna Calhoun evened the score a minute after Parker's goal. The score stayed 1-1 at the half.
Kenai, which has underclassmen in 15 of its 22 players, gained valuable experience during the NLC tournament, Kards head coach Dan Verkuilen said. Games are faster and more physical, he said.
Though Kenai was fatigued from Friday's 2-1 loss to Wasilla, Verkuilen said his team played hard.
"They actually believed they could win after the first half, and that's what you want," he said.
Soldotna blanked the Knights 3-0 in Friday's semifinals.
Verkuilen said his team has had substantial improvement since Wasilla and Colony each handed Kenai 4-1 losses earlier this season.
"What a huge jump," he said. "I think other teams recognized how far they've come. I have nothing but praise for them."
The small number of upperclassmen on the team have helped develop the younger players, Verkuilen said.
"The seniors hold this thing together," he said. "They get a ton of credit."
This year has been one filled with positives for Kenai.
"It's been one of those seasons where never a bad word was spoken," Verkuilen said. "You would want to coach this team every year of your life."
Verkuilen said he was thankful for all of the community support throughout the season.
"The Kenai community is just awesome," he said.
Colony claimed the boys title with a 3-2 overtime win over Wasilla. Grace Christian defeated Palmer 3-2 in the third-place game.
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