The Soldotna soccer team took a step forward at the state soccer tournament Friday in Juneau by defeating Wasilla 2-1 in overtime for the first state win in program history.
Despite the win, SoHi coach Mike Tovoli said it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the rest of the state in soccer. That was driven home in a 4-0 loss to South Anchorage in Saturday's fourth-place game.
"Winning a game at state was a goal, and it was a step forward," Tovoli said via cell phone from Juneau. "The problem is we can't be satisfied with one step. We have to shoot for more.
"On the peninsula, without having the facilities like in Anchorage or the Valley, we're having a hard time catching up in soccer and other sports."
Anchorage and Juneau have access to outdoor turf and indoor facilities, while Valley players have access to indoor facilities. In Fairbanks, like on the Peninsula, soccer players' only option is to use gyms in the winter.
On the boys side, the Peninsula and the Northern Lights Conference are having an easier time keeping up. The Soldotna boys finished fourth at state in both 2007 and 2008. This year, the Wasilla boys were fourth, the Colony boys were fifth and the Grace boys were sixth to represent the NLC well.
On the girls side, the three NLC teams have now occupied the sixth slot and the two seventh-place slots for five years in a row.
The last NLC girls squad to finish above sixth place was the Homer girls in 2005, when the Mariners finished fourth. The high-water mark for Peninsula soccer remains the third-place finish of the Skyview boys in 2004.
"Until we get something like indoor facilities or turf, we're always going to be behind the eight ball if we truly hope to compete," Tovoli said. "We need to have the facilities to make it work and happen on a year-to-year basis."
The Stars had to battle for 102 minutes to get their first state victory. Coming into the Friday game, the Warriors and Stars had split this year, with Soldotna taking down Wasilla in the NLC title game.
SoHi took the lead in the game when Sydney Goggia scored off a Kaiti Van Meter corner kick.
Wasilla scored 10 minutes into the second half to tie the game. The teams played two 10-minute overtime periods and nobody scored. That set up two five-minute, sudden-death overtime periods. Just over two minutes into the first sudden-death period, Kaili Sholin gave Casey Coupchiak a breakaway with a through ball. Coupchiak converted the game winner.
"I told the girls, 'You've got to come out and perform. They're going to want revenge from that championship game'" Tovoli said. "They battled for the 102 minutes of soccer it took to seal the deal."
The Stars stayed with South on Saturday for a half. The Wolverines scored right before the end of the first half and controlled the game after that.
"Overall, we fought hard for 80 minutes of soccer but we kind of ran out of gas," Tovoli said.
He said the defensive line, led by all-tournament selection Shana Powell, worked extremely hard against South. Also on defense are Kelsey Van Antwerp, Erica Byerley and Kylee Woodford.
Tovoli also said Van Meter and Cassie Sheridan did a great job of marking dangerous players in the midfield. At forward, Coupchiak, T'essa Tovoli and Goggia provided a potent rotation, while Tovoli said Heidi Westerman stood tall in goal.
Finally, he said Phoebe Napolitano and Molly Fenton were key as substitutes.
"It's the first game we ever won at state. I'm very proud of all the girls. They did a fantastic job throughout the season," Tovoli said.
Graduates Powell, Coupchiak, Emily Rich, Emily Rohloff and Jenna Redford have played their last game with Soldotna. Tovoli gave special thanks to Redford, who was injured both in 2008 and this year and could not participate at state.
"I always hate losing any of the kids," Tovoli said. "I love that they are moving on in life. They are such great ladies, and it's been great watching them grow over the past three years.
"I feel very good about the upcoming freshmen we have coming in."
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