SoHi boys, Kenai girls set for state: Soccer teams both chase hard-to-get, 1st-round wins

Posted: Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Since the state soccer tournament started in 2000, Kenai Peninsula teams are 1-17 in the first round.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Soldotna's Dawson Pearson tries to get the ball past Nikiski keeper Jordan Harrison during a game earlier this season. Soldotna will have their eye on a state championship this weekend.

Despite that fact, the Soldotna boys and Kenai Central girls are having no problem believing they can match or better the third-place finish achieved by the 2004 Skyview boys -- the only peninsula team ever to win in the first round.

For the No. 8-seeded Stars, who open the tournament today with a noon game against top-seeded Dimond at Anchorage Football Stadium, confidence comes from a 1-0 victory over the Lynx in the first game of the year and fourth-place finishes at state the past two years.

For the No. 3-seeded Kardinals, who open Thursday with a 6 p.m. game against No. 6-seeded Juneau-Douglas at AFS, belief comes from three straight shutouts against Valley teams that earned them a Northern Lights Conference title last weekend.

The Kardinals also know that they tied Soldotna this year, while the Stars played to a 3-0 loss and a 3-3 tie with the Crimson Bears.

The Soldotna boys have a rather extensive, recent state-tournament history against Dimond. Last year at the state soccer tournament, the Lynx topped the Stars 1-0 in the first round.

At the Class 4A state basketball tournament in March, Dimond defeated Soldotna in overtime in the championship game. Seniors Matt Grubb and Dan Geller and junior Blaine Carver were integral to the basketball team and are vital to the soccer team.

"It's definitely motivating that group, being on a team beaten by Dimond for the state championship," Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers said.

Siemers also said the team is motivated by a finish higher than fourth place. In order to accomplish that, the Stars have to win in the first round, something they have failed to do in the program's three previous trips to state.

As usual, all eyes, and considerable marking, will be on Carver, the 2009 Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year and Northern Lights Conference MVP.

Because of the considerable attention Carver and his 26 goals thus far this season are sure to draw, Siemers said others need to score, like junior Jeff Mullen and Grubb.

Siemers said other keys to the game will be possession and defense.

"In the first game, they were able to out-possess us, but they weren't able to finish on goal," Siemers said.

In order to shut out Dimond again, Siemers said defenders Garrett Byerley and Taylor Jackson, both seniors, will have to step forward. Geller also will have to be solid in goal.

Soldotna's final motivation comes from the tournament schedule. If the Stars lose, they play at 8 a.m. Thursday. If they win, they play at 2 p.m. Friday.

The Kenai girls bring a team loaded with 11 seniors to state. Ten of those seniors were on the team in 2006, when the Kardinals went 0-2 at state.

Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen also guided the Kards to state in 2000 and 2001. Kenai lost both of those years in the fourth-place game.

"These girls, overall, for sure are the most talented," Verkuilen said, comparing this year's side to those of the past.

The coach said he is really optimistic after watching his team come together at the conference tournament to pitch shutouts in all three games. Kenai has allowed just four goals all season.

Verkuilen also said it is a good omen that Kenai's only two victories at state have come over Juneau and Chugiak, which are both on Kenai's side of the bracket.

Soldotna girls coach Mike Tovoli said Kenai could run its record to 2-0 in program history against the Crimson Bears.

"I think Kenai matches up really well with them," Tovoli said. "They create a lot of problems for Juneau. I could see them winning that game."

Tovoli said the teams employ contrasting styles, with Kenai preferring to chase down through balls and Juneau liking to keep possession.

Verkuilen said the Kardinals will be able to run down those through balls all game, and through the whole tournament, due to depth. The Kardinals are so deep, they had seven players score in one game this season.

"Truly, if I'd start to mention one, I'd have to mention 22," Verkuilen said. "It's kind of a cool thing because that's what it takes to be a good team. You can't just have a couple."

Lacie Wortham earned first-team all-conference honors for the Kardinals in net. Verkuilen said she is the best goalie in the state.

The Kardinals also have a commanding midfield presence in fellow first-teamer Shelby Daly, a senior. Senior Holly Perkins, a first-teamer, and junior Casey Coupchiak, who made the second team this year after making the first team her first two years, give Kenai a scoring punch up front.

Verkuilen said that if the Kards get off to a good start, they should be fine.

"We have to come out early and show that we're going to be competitive," Verkuilen said. "If not, we'll have been happy to be there. We have to be able to go step-for-step with them early or we'll be in a shooting gallery."

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