A fast start propelled the Cook Inlet Academy coed soccer team to an opening day victory at the Aurora Borealis Conference tournament at the Kenai Sports Complex fields.
The Eagles opened the season-ending tournament with a 3-1 win over Birchwood Christian, the No. 4 seed from the south division. CIA is the top seed from the south, but the No. 2 seed overall, only below northern team Delta Junction.
With the win, the Eagles will face Susitna Valley, 2-1 overtime winners over Lumen Christi, today at 2 p.m.
Senior striker Noah Leaf got the party started with a patient strike just eight minutes in. Leaf caught a cross from the right side and sent a shot to the far side of Birchwood goalkeeper Bradley Nunley for a 1-0 Eagles lead.
Sophomore midfielder Logan Largent scored in the 36th minute to put CIA up 2-0. After 40 minutes, the home squad was leading by two and had outshot Birchwood 6-2.
However, the Eagles would not be able to relax against the Warriors.
“They play very tough,” said CIA coach Kenny Leaf. “A 2-0 lead is a dangerous place to be.”
The Warriors turned up the pressure in the second half, finding space in CIA’s half of the field and eventually scoring in the 64th minute thanks to Landen Wohrle, cutting the lead in half.
“We didn’t have much control or possession, I felt we were just watching the ball,” Leaf said.
Birchwood continued pressing, but CIA goalkeeper Brady Hammond fended off several stiff challenges.
The attack eventually backfired on Birchwood, as Leaf battled for a through ball in the Warriors zone in the final minute of the game and won, tapping in his second goal of the contest when the goalie could not handle the ball.
CIA’s semifinal clash today against Su Valley, the second seed from the north division, is a rematch of last year’s third-place game at the tournament, which CIA won in penalty kicks. Earlier this year, the Eagles beat Su Valley 3-1.
“From here on out, we just got to stay relaxed and play with heart,” Leaf said. “It’s kind of back to basics for us.”
In other games Thursday, top seed Delta edged Tri Valley 1-0 with a late goal, Holy Rosary prevailed 3-1 over Nenana, and Birchwood came back in the evening to top Wasilla Lake 6-1.
In addition to CIA playing Su Valley in the semifinal bracket, the other semi will match up Delta and Holy Rosary at 3:30 p.m. In the third-place bracket, Birchwood will play Lumen Christi at 12:30 p.m.