Even a plump cat sleeping next to a fire could get excited about the Soldotna girls soccer team's next game.
The Stars (13-1 overall), coming off their third Northern Lights Conference championship in four seasons, face Dimond at 3 p.m. today in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament at Dimond.
SoHi is the No. 4 seed, Dimond the No. 5.
There are several factors scaling up the intrigue:
* Dimond is the defending state champion.
* Dimond defeated SoHi at state in 2010.
* Dimond handed the Stars their only loss this season, 3-1.
Then there's the fact the Stars have never won a first-round game on the big stage, earning the school's first state-tournament win last season in a consolation game after losing the opener.
"We know exactly what Dimond is going to bring to the table," SoHi coach Mike Tovoli said. "We know as a team what we have to do. We have to be able go out and play a full 80 minutes."
That's been Tovoli's rallying cry all season, even as the Stars steamrolled through the NLC.
SoHi outscored its opponents 46-6 during the regular season before sweeping through the conference tournament.
Not until the tournament did any team -- other than Dimond, of course -- come within a goal of SoHi.
Yet Tovoli and the players believe the squad is capable of playing better.
"We need to play an 80-minute game, come out as hard as we can and keep it going," said Kaili Sholin, the conference player of the year. "You have to come out for the full 80 minutes at state."
Dimond is as complete as any squad in the bracket, which also includes Colony, Chugiak, Juneau-Douglas, West Valley, South Anchorage and Wasilla.
Tovoli said Dimond is a fast, skilled team which controls possession and is deep at every position.
The Stars, meanwhile, were one of the most physical teams in the NLC and feature a mix of senior and freshmen talent.
Seniors Sholin and Kaitlyn Van Meter anchor SoHi at midfield, while senior Becca Satathite has been a rock in goal. Fellow senior T'essa Tovoli is a proven goal scorer at forward.
Freshmen Julie Litchfield and Kylee Wolfe provide scoring threats on the wings, while a quartet of defenders give Satathite help in the back.
Tovoli said any player could contribute at any time, which he believes is one of his unit's strengths.
"They all have stepped up, it's been a total team effort this year," Tovoli said. "I really enjoy how they are working as a team. It's fun to watch because you never know who is going to step up."
Motivation is especially high for SoHi's seniors. Five of them were starters on the state-tournament team of 2008, when they were freshmen.
Among them is Van Meter. She said it's important to the seniors to make a deep postseason run.
"The big thing is, when we came in as freshmen, SoHi soccer wasn't anything," Van Meter said. "And now it's built up to so much, to where we want to get to state every year. That's how we want to finish going out, making a statement at state and leaving it to the rest of the girls."
A win today puts the Stars in the semifinals against either No. 1 Chugiak or No. 8 Wasilla at 11 a.m. Friday at Dimond. A loss drops them to a loser-out game Chugiak or Wasilla at 11 a.m. at Chugiak.
"I absolutely feel like the team is close to putting together a complete game," Tovoli said. "I think we have a very good shot at pulling off an upset, but the girls have to believe in themselves and know they can do it."
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