Kenai's Lierin Flanagan wins the 100-meter dash last weekend at the Region III Track and Field Championships, securing a berth this weekend at the state championships in Fairbanks.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Confidence is running rampant amongst Kenai Peninsula soccer teams as they travel to the Northern Lights Conference tournament in Wasilla today.
And most squads have good reason.
“With the conference the way it is this year, it’s been pretty even throughout any team can win on any given night you’ve got to love our chances as far as a team that’s peaking at the right time and we’re ready to play, we’re excited about this region tournament,” said Skyview coach Ronnie Kier, whose Panthers closed the season 3-1-1 after starting 0-3-1. “If we just come out and play soccer like we did at the end of the season, we have just as good a chance as anybody.”
Looking to defend the conference tourney title, the Kenai girls have outscored opponents 43-4 in earning the top seed in the south with an 8-0-2 overall mark and will play Wasilla, a squad they edged 1-0 earlier this year.
“It seems like almost every year. Last year we beat them our first game of regions. The year before that they beat us the first game of regions. We always play each other really well,” said Kardinals coach Dan Verkuilen. “They’re always good games. I don’t remember a game where there was a two-goal differential. Even that, one goal is more like it.”
Revenge is on the minds of some, too.
Winners of four straight, the Soldotna girls (6-3-1) will take on Grace, a team that beat the Stars 3-0 this season and also handed them a pair of opening round 1-0 losses the past two years.
“The funny thing that I kind of keep in the back of my mind that both years we played Grace,” SoHi coach Jimmy Love said. “This year I kind of figured the tables are turned.”
Tying Grace 0-0 in the first contest of the season, the Kenai boys (7-1-3) will play the Grizzlies in the first round for the third consecutive year.
Having gone 0-for-6 at state from 2000-02, the Kardinals’ current mission is crystal clear.
“We don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch. That’s our objective,” Kenai coach David Landry said of advancing to state again. “The key to this region tournament is winning the first game. We’ve been down that road twice and we’ve been kicked out right away in the first round.
“We’re hopeful that the boys will come out there and that they’ll play hard and that they’ll be rewarded for their hard work and effort.”
The top-seeded Soldotna boys are carrying the perfect mix of malicious confidence into their opening game against No. 4 Palmer.
The Stars (9-1) have won eight straight games since their only loss to Wasilla, blanked Palmer 3-0 this season and fully expect to be playing in Saturday’s championship contest.
Looming in the back of some players’ minds, however, may be their first-round exits the past two seasons.
“The guys are feeling good. With the wins that we’ve had the last few games, we’ve had multiple people scoring and a lot of people involved in the action, that’s helped the overall chemistry of the team,” said SoHi coach Jeff Siemers. “We definitely want to see more than one game in the state tournament to get a taste of the well-played soccer all over the state, instead of just the region.”
With a 2-7 record, the Skyview boys snuck into the postseason and will take on a Wasilla squad missing its starting goalie to a red card issued in the season finale.
Making matters even more intriguing the two teams have a long history.
“I think we’re really similar teams but I think that they are ... a lot more experienced than we are. But I think our attacks and what we’re trying to accomplish are real similar. They like to come up the middle like we do,” said Panthers’ coach Dave Carpenter. “We have a real good history with Wasilla. We catch them a lot at region tournaments and we’ve done well.
“I think so many goofy things have gone against us this year, everything from shots to broken bones, but maybe we’re going to catch some breaks in this one.”
Defending NLC Player of the Year Claire Siekaniec and Homer are looking to avenge last year’s first round setback to Palmer when they take on Colony.
The Mariners, who claimed back-to-back conference crowns in 2004 and 2005, will take on Kenai in the second round should both teams prevail.
“Regions is like a whole new season starting. A lot of these teams in the beginning of April we were playing them ... now you see them a month and a half later ... a lot of times it’s a totally different game than when you played them the first time,” Verkuilen said. “There’s probably four or five teams that are capable of beating any team in the region right now. It will be a real competitive region.
“So I don’t have any delusions of having an easy go up there and the girls know the same thing.”
While the fourth-seeded Seward boys qualified for the tournament and will play Colony, the Skyview girls remain a team to watch, having qualified for play last season before suffering a first-round loss.
An opening-round tilt with top-seeded Palmer should provide the Panthers a formidable task, but it was a 2-2 tie against the Moose earlier this year that began Skyview’s strong march toward the postseason.
“We definitely felt if we pulled Palmer first round, we’d have a good chance. That was the first game in three years that we actually played soccer like soccer is supposed to be played,” Kier explained. “We played excellent and I think that just gave the girls confidence that we can play with anyone. They were looking forward to playing again. They felt they should have won that game.”
With three state berths on the line, the Panthers believe one could belong to them.
“I think that was the starting point that they started realizing we can play soccer with the best,” he said. “Palmer has proven to be the best up there in the north. That was almost like a win for us, just with a tie, just for the confidence factor.
“The coolest part is these seniors were there for that first year where we didn’t make it. We had that disappointment and what that felt like (last year),” Kier added. “They’re ready to take this program to another level.”
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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