When it’s your year, it’s your year. And right now, the Soldotna girls are having a year.
The Stars ticked another overdue win off their list Friday night in Soldotna with a 56-41 victory over the Wasilla Warriors, then Saturday notched a dramatic, come-from-behind, 49-47 victory over Wasilla.
The Stars clinched the top seed at the Northern Lights Conference tournament, which is March 7 to 9 at Soldotna, and ran their record to 8-0 in the league and 20-2 overall.
Not to be outdone, the Soldotna boys then also came back to pull off a victory over the Warriors on Saturday, winning 38-33 after losing 54-40 on Friday. SoHi moves to 5-3 in the league and 11-9 overall, while Wasilla is 4-2 in the NLC.
The Wasilla boys had a 10-3 lead after the first quarter, then the game was tied at 17 at the half. SoHi grabbed a 30-26 lead after three quarters and was able to hang on for the win.
Brock Kant had 12 for the Stars, while Jersey Truesdell had 11. Daniel Headdings paced Wasilla with 18 points.
Friday’s triumph for the SoHi girls was the first win over Wasilla in five years, and the first with Kyle McFall as their head coach. SoHi’s most recent win over Wasilla came Feb. 21, 2014, the last year with Doug Blossom as head coach, when the Stars bested the Warriors 46-31.
That, combined with another five-year victory drought snapped earlier this season over the Colony Knights, has given the Stars a legit team-to-beat feel.
“It’s pretty nice,” said senior guard Brittani Blossom. “It’s just a good feeling knowing that everyone else doubted us going into the season and we’ve proven them wrong every time.”
Blossom drained three 3-pointers to finish with 18 points Friday, taking over after teammate Aliann Schmidt keyed a fast start with 13 of her game-high 19 points in the first quarter. Junior forward Ituau Tuisaula also chipped in 12 points.
The Warriors have won five of the last eight Class 4A girls state championships but have experienced a roller-coaster season in 2019 with the loss of several key players to graduation, plus the absence of superstar player Olivia Davies to injury.
The inconsistent year for Wasilla coinciding with a rise in production for Soldotna has resulted in a breakout campaign for SoHi, but trying to beat any team that is coached by Wasilla legend Jeannie Hebert-Truax is no small task.
“It’s a big win but we’ve got to do it again (Saturday),” said SoHi head coach Kyle McFall, who picked up his first win (1-9) against Hebert-Truax in his coaching career with the Stars.
Schmidt had 17 of the team’s first 25 points, and hit two triples as part of a rapid barrage of points in the opening period, helping SoHi out to an 11-6 lead.
However, Schmidt was mirrored by Wasilla’s dangerous freshman Bella Hays, whose 6-foot-3 frame in the post helped her score eight points for the Warriors in the first quarter, which ended 16-12 with SoHi in front.
“We just want to try to put teams away and not give them any confidence,” Blossom said about the fast start.
McFall has a knack for spotting key matchups, and said Schmidt had a big mismatch on the perimeter early with her speed and agility against some of Wasilla’s less experienced guards. McFall added that once the Warriors began rotating players to defend Schmidt, that opened up the rest of the offense to Tuisaula and Blossom.
“There’s only so many (players) you can take away,” McFall said.
A late 8-0 run by SoHi to close the first half left the Stars with a 33-17 halftime lead. Blossom notched six of those points herself, including a trey with 58 seconds to go, and Danica Schmidt put back an offensive rebound with five ticks left to send SoHi to the locker room with momentum.
Hays kept Wasilla in striking range in the third quarter with an early putback layup and was joined by teammate Sheridan Green in cutting the lead back to 35-21, but Tuisaula and Aliann Schmidt answered back with two buckets on Wasilla turnovers, and Blossom joined the party with a deep 3 and a layup off of a steal in the final two minutes of the third, pushing the SoHi lead to 48-26 after three quarters.
Wasilla strung together a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter, but SoHi took the sting off by draining the clock on each possession with tough defense.
Hays led the Wasilla offense with 16 points. SoHi held one of Wasilla’s top scoring threats, Cheyenne Green, to just two points.
Wasilla boys 54, Soldotna 40
The SoHi boys felt the brunt of Wasilla’s two-headed attack in Daniel Headdings and Luke Devine as the Warriors forged a Friday night split with a convincing NLC victory on SoHi’s home court.
Devine tallied 18 points to lead the Warriors and Headdings notched 10 of his 15 points in the first quarter as Wasilla netted the first nine points of the game and staved off each Soldotna attack.
The Stars got a game from junior Jersey Truesdell, who shot a game-high 26 points thanks to seven 3s, but it wasn’t enough to push SoHi to an upset victory.
“They’re good, and they’ve been good for a decade,” said SoHi coach Nolan Rose. “We didn’t start the game with the kind of purposeful effort that we needed to. I’m not saying we didn’t play hard, but if you play hard without direction, you’re a chicken with your head cut off.”
Soldotna was also without junior guard Ray Chumley, who was out due to flu symptoms that caused him to miss Friday’s classes, according to Rose.
Rose said Chumley’s absence hurt SoHi’s depth, leaving the spotlight on Truesdell to perform.
“If you spot a team like that, that kind of advantage, you’re playing uphill the whole time and it’ll be difficult,” Rose said.
Headdings and Devine are the only two returning players from last year’s 4A boys state championship team that hold significant varsity experience, but Wasilla head coach Ryan Engebretsen said the Warriors’ defensive attitude helped force turnovers early that put the Stars out of their groove, and it helped the Wasilla offense get into its groove.
“It’s the same key to every game with this group,” Engebretsen said. “It’s about the entire team buying in and playing well with five guys, finding a way to click offensively and stay engaged.”
Wasilla went up 9-0 early and led 18-9 after one quarter, which was capped with a deep trey from Headdings just before the buzzer.
Wasilla scored at the end of long possessions in each of the first three quarters. The first half was decided on a series of blinding quick passes that led to an open look under the rim by Kody Campbell to cap a 90-second possession, with the Warriors leading 26-18.
Then, the third quarter finished with more efficient ball movement by the Warriors, who managed to end a near minutelong possession with a bucket by Andrew Devine for a 41-29 lead.
Truesdell drained a 3 in the first minute of the third quarter to keep SoHi within range of Wasilla, but the Warriors recorded another 9-0 run midway through the quarter that ended on a Campbell 3-pointer with 2:00 to go. Wasilla led 37-23 at that point.
An 8-0 run helped push Wasilla to the win in the fourth quarter.
Soldotna girls 49, Wasilla 47
The Stars trailed 32-22 at the half Saturday and were down 15 in the third quarter before they started to work their way back into the game, trailing 41-38 at the end of the third quarter.
Wasilla had the lead back up to seven with three minutes left in the game before the Stars made a final push. Brittani Blossom, on her 18th birthday, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with a little over a minute left. Wasilla’s Bella Hayes then had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but missed.
McFall said in an email his girls stepped up and played lockdown defense for the final two possessions, showing great composure down the stretch.
“Crowd was awesome and gave the players great energy,” McFall wrote.
Bella Hays had 15 points to lead Wasilla, while Harmony McSorley and Sheridan Green each pitched in 11. For Soldotna, Aliann Schmidt had 15, while Brittani Blossom and Ituau Tuisaula had 11 apiece.
Warriors 54, Stars 40
Wasilla 18 8 15 13 —54
Soldotna 9 9 11 11 —40
WASILLA (54) — Devine 18, Campbell 10, Kaufman 4, Headdings 15, Koval 0, Lawhead 0, Wagle 1, A. Devine 6.
SOLDOTNA (40) — Rich 0, Morrison 4, Hanson 4, Truesdell 26, Kant 0, Wells 0, Rosin 0, Michael 6.
3-point FG — Wasilla 4 (Headdings 3, Devine 1); Soldotna 7 (Truesdell 7).
Team fouls — Wasilla 12; Soldotna 4. Fouled out — none.
Stars 56, Warriors 41
Wasilla 12 5 9 15 —41
Soldotna 16 17 15 8 —56
WASILLA (41) — Mears 0, McSorley 9, Anderson 0, Lawhead 8, S. Green 6, C. Green 2, Cox 0, Hays 16.
SOLDOTNA (56) — McGillivray 3, Buckbee 0, Blossom 18, A. Schmidt 19, Bouschor 2, Tuisaula 12, Holland 0, Crosby-Schneider 0, D. Schmidt 2.
3-point FG — Wasilla 0; Soldotna 5 (Blossom 3, A. Schmidt 2).
Team fouls — Wasilla 13; Soldotna 10. Fouled out — none.
Stars 49, Warriors 47
Wasilla 15 17 9 6 — 47
Soldotna 11 11 16 11 — 49
WASILLA (47) — McSorley 11, Anderson 2, Lawhead 4, S. Green 11, C. Green 4, Cox 0, Hays 15. Totals — 20 6-12 47.
SOLDOTNA (49) — McGillivray 2, Buckbee 0, Blossom 11, A. Schmidt 15, Bouschor 0, Tuisaula 11, Holland 0, Crosby-Schneider 2, D. Schmidt 8. Totals — 18 10-15 49.
3-point goals — Wasilla 1 (S. Green); Soldotna 3 (Blossom, A. Schmidt, D. Schmidt). Team fouls — Wasilla 12, Soldotna 9. Fouled out — none.
Stars 38, Warriors 33
Wasilla 10 7 9 7 — 33
Soldotna 3 14 13 8 — 38
WASILLA (33) — L. Devine 7, Campbell 4, Kaufman 2, Headdings 18, Koval 0, Lawhead 0, A. Devine 2. Totals — 10 11-13 33.
SOLDOTNA (38) — Morrison 4, Hanson 0, Chumley 6, Truesdell 11, Kant 12, Rosin 0, Michael 5. Totals — 13 7-11 38.
3-point goals — Wasilla 2 (Headdings 2); Soldotna 5 (Chumley 2, Kant 2, Truesdell). Team fouls — Wasilla 9, Soldotna 13. Fouled out — none.