In the past, when the Soldotna soccer teams learned what it is like to take the field with state behemoth South, the season was pretty much over.
Friday at Soldotna High School, the Stars and Wolverines faced off with the season only pretty much beginning.
South was able to notch the sweep, with the boys taking a 5-1 game behind a goal and four assists from Blake Hepler and the girls rolling to a 6-0 result.
The Wolverines boys moved to 5-0-2 while the girls improved to 4-1. The Soldotna boys are 4-3 after a 3-0 loss to West at home Saturday, while the SoHi girls fall to 3-3.
South has won five girls and five boys state titles since opening its doors in the fall of 2004. Both the Soldotna girls and boys had played the Wolverines before, but it was always at the state tournament.
Friday, the games with Soldotna came early in the season when the Stars still have weeks of practice to work on holes exposed by the Wolverines.
“Normally, we wouldn’t have this level of game until we get to state,” Soldotna boys coach Darryl Byerley said. “In past years, we’d still be a week away from playing our first game, so I can’t complain about this experience.”
Just seven minutes into the boys game, the Stars built up a nice attack from the back until Johnny Smithwick played a nice through ball to Erick Mayoral, who finished for the lead.
“That’s what we want to be,” Byerley said. “A buildup in play results in a good shot inside the box.”
The South bus broke down just after entering Soldotna, meaning the Wolverines arrived later than they wanted to for the game.
“We had plenty of time to warm up,” South coach Mike Montgomery said, refusing to blame the late arrival on the slow start. “Soldotna is a good team. I don’t think the final score was reflective of the game.”
Montgomery said his team has had several instances of needing to fall behind to wake up this season, and Friday fit that bill.
Just 30 seconds after the Mayoral strike, Hepler found Patricio Moyano for a goal, and a minute later Andrew DePaepe scored on another Hepler assist for a 2-1 South lead.
The Wolverines, who have 12 seniors on their roster, then used their size, speed and experience to gradually pull away from the Stars, who had six sophomores on the field.
In the 25th minute, Hepler fed Adam Skelton for a 3-1 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Skelton was fouled in the box to earn a successful Hepler penalty kick, and Kai Kokesh scored on an assist from Hepler.
After the early goal, South’s defense also was able to contain the Stars attack. Montgomery credited better communication by central defenders Spencer Evans and Mason Keffalos.
“South executed well,” Byerley said. “I’m much happier with the 5-1 loss to South than the 2-1 (Thursday) loss to Kenai. The intensity was much better.”
Byerley said Blake Jones did a good job at goalie after coming in 20 minutes into the contest. The coach also liked the play of Luke Trammell at left defense and Dylan Kuntz at center midfield.
South girls 6, Soldotna 0
The two-time defending state champions put 25 shots on net and held the Stars without a solid strike on frame.
The reason the score wasn’t more than 6-0? An incredible day in the goal by Maddie Kindred.
Due to issues with her back, Kindred hadn’t played in a game this season. SoHi coach Jimmy Love also said Kindred has had only light duty in five or less practices.
The rust didn’t show.
“Obviously, we were shooting some right at her, but she was phenomenal,” South coach Brian Farrell said. “She had a lot of work to do.”
On at least six occasions, Kindred saved point-blank chances right on her doorstep. Once, she saved two such chances on the same play.
In the 58th minute, Kindred saved one close-range rocket which knocked her to the ground, but she got up and came to balance in time to parry another ripper on the rebound.
“With the amount of practice she has had, for her to come out and play like that was pretty unbelievable,” Love said.
South lost eight seniors off of last year’s squad and has just three seniors this year, but the Wolverines served notice Friday that they intend a vigorous defense of their title.
Farrell was very happy with the game, saying his squad has beaten teams at a similar level to Soldotna in Anchorage and not looked as impressive doing it.
Megan Currier had two goals and an assist for South, while Abbi Osgood, Alex Ott, Jaidyn Kinneeveauk and Isabel Evans also added goals. Jordan Foraker had two assists, while Sofia Velez also had an assist.
Also of note for South was the play of the defense, which snuffed out the SoHi attack all day. When freshman Katie Lulay was unable to play more than a few minutes on the back line due to illness, fellow freshman Olivia Schuster stepped in and the defense remained solid.
Love said South’s team speed posed a problem for his side.
“They worked well as a team,” said Love, who liked the play of Anna Wrobel at defense. “I’m not saying we didn’t do that, but we didn’t do it at the same speed.”
Like Byerley, Love said getting to see South’s speed, especially for his young players, was invaluable.
“They took some lumps, but they will learn from this,” Love said.
West boys 3, Soldotna 0
The Stars were able to keep the game scoreless for a half until the Eagles pulled away in the second half.
“It was 0-0 at half, then the gas tank hit ‘E,’” Byerley said. “This was our fourth game in a week and third game in a row and it caught up with us.
“I’m pleased with the progression of play over the last three days.”
Byerley said Johnny Smithwick continues to grow in his defensive midfield spot. He said the bench, led by Drew Kant, also had a solid game. And Byerley added Jones, despite letting in three goals, was excellent in net.