The Soldotna boys were a couple of unfortunate bounces away from playing for fourth place for the third straight season.
But second-seeded Colony capitalized just before halftime and again late in the second half in eliminating the Stars from the state soccer tournament with a 2-0 win on Thursday morning at Anchorage Football Stadium.
The eighth-seeded Stars, who lost 5-2 to top-seeded Dimond in Wednesday's opening round, their third first-round loss in as many years, beat Colony 4-3 during the regular season, but went on to take third place in the Northern Lights Conference tournament last weekend while the Knights won it all.
"It's probably one of the most difficult games of the season after coming back after a tough loss that has taken you out of the winner's bracket and then you have to play at eight in the morning the next day in the rain," Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers said via cell phone. "The pace was slow and not as many scoring opportunities as we would have liked."
Colony outshot Soldotna, 12-2, a stat more lopsided due to the absence of 2009 Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year and Northern Lights Conference MVP Blaine Carver, a Soldotna junior who racked up 26 goals this season before sitting out both tournament games with a leg injury suffered in the conference tournament.
"It played a large part really in our possession up top," said Siemers, whose team finished 10-5-3 on the season. "Blaine creates goals but he also creates opportunities for other players.
"Without him possessing the ball, some of our guys weren't able to create as well up top," he added. "Coming off a tough loss the day before, it helps to have the entire team there."
The Knights struck first in the 38th minute after James Meaney was taken down inside the box. Bridger Van Ness' penalty shot was initially saved by senior keeper Daniel Geller, but the ball caromed off the post and right to Van Ness, who put it into the back of the net.
"That was pretty brutal, because it was a good save. Geller read him really well," Siemers said. "Getting the penalty called for one, but having Geller actually make the save, it pretty much added insult to injury."
The second tally was just as unlucky, as Geller got his hands on a long throw-in into the box in the 72nd minute, but the goalie bobbled the ball and Jess McKee was there to head it into the goal.
The early start may have hindered Soldotna's strategic play, too.
"We do well on transitions and quick play. That's where a lot of our goals are scored," Siemers explained. "Sometimes morning games don't lend themselves to those quick transitions."
The loss ends the high school soccer careers of eight SoHi seniors, including defenseman Garrett Byerley, honored as Soldotna's player of the game.
"Especially since all of the seniors have experienced two fourth-place finishes, it was tough not to win at the state tournament," Siemers said. "Careerwise they don't have anything to be ashamed of.
"I guess what was disappointing was not living up to their expectations," he added. "But I'm still proud of the guys for all the accomplishments they've had this year."
Siemers was disappointed, but sounded encouraged about next year after some sophomores and juniors, who didn't see much varsity time during the season, provided a good glimpse into the future with their state-tournament minutes.
"Tournament play is tough because you're usually ending the season on a loss," he said. "But I think overall we had a great season and I'm looking forward to making it happen for everybody next year."
Juneau-Douglas girls 2, Kenai Central 0
The third-seeded Kardinals fell to the sixth-seeded Crimson Bears in the opening round of the state soccer tournament after the game was delayed close to two hours due to earlier games going into overtime and shootouts.
Kenai Central, making its first state-tournament appearance since 2006 after winning last weekend's NLC tourney, will now take on Wasilla at 10 a.m. today at AFS for the right to play in Saturday's fourth-place contest at 8 a.m.
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