It’s Kenai girls vs. SoHi; SoHi boys vs. Juneau for Division II state soccer titles

The Kenai Central and Soldotna girls will play for the Division II state soccer title today at 11:30 a.m. at West in Anchorage, while the Soldotna boys will face Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kale for the boys title at 1:30 p.m. at West.

The Kardinals girls, the No. 1 seed, knocked off No. 4 seed Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kale 2-0 in the Friday semifinal.

The Crimson Bears had won all the Division II state titles since that division was created in 2018. The Kenai girls will play in the state final for the first time, while Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen will lead his team into the final for the first time in his 24 years as coach.

Soldotna, the No. 2 seed, defeated No. 3 North Pole 4-3. The Stars reach the state final for the third time, having taken losses to Juneau in 2019 and 2021. Soldotna coach Jimmy Love is in his 11th season as head coach.

Either the Kenai or Soldotna girls will become the second program on the Kenai Peninsula to win a state title, and the first girls program to win state. The Kenai boys won Division II titles in 2018 and 2019.

The Kenai girls won all three games against the Stars this season.

“The girls have given it two tough games and I believe they have one more left in them,” Love said. “What’s at stake is a state title against Kenai and all that it brings — that extra level of gusto.”

The Stars boys, the No. 3 seed, defeated No. 2 Palmer 2-1 to avenge a loss earlier in the year. SoHi’s Erik Dolphin will play for the title for the second time in his three years as coach, with the Stars losing to Thunder Mountain in 2021.

Soldotna lost to Juneau 2-0 in the regular season on April 21.

The Juneau boys, the defending state champion and top seed, knocked off No. 4 Ketchikan 2-0 in the other semifinal.

On the girls fourth-place side of the bracket, No. 5 Homer defeated No. 2 Nikiski 2-0 and No. 6 Grace defeated No. 7 Houston 4-2.

The Juneau and North Pole girls play for third place at 9 a.m. at West, while the Homer and Grace girls play for fourth place at 8 a.m. at Service.

On the boys fourth-place side of the bracket, No. 5 Kenai defeated No. 8 Homer 2-0 and No. 6 Grace defeated No. 7 North Pole 4-3.

Ketchikan and Palmer play for third place at 9:45 a.m. at Service, while Kenai and Grace play for fourth place at 9:45 a.m. at South.

Kenai girls 2, Juneau 0

The Kardinals ride into the championship game at 18-0-0 after ending the reign of the Crimson Bears.

Rylie Sparks scored a pair of goals for the Kardinals to earn player of the game, while Maddie Malone got the shutout for Kenai in the net.

After a scoreless first half, Kenai went ahead just three minutes into the second half when Kylee Verkuilen assisted Sparks.

Coach Verkuilen said in a text message that his team continued to put pressure on but did not score until the 80th minute.

Grace Beiser volleyed a long ball toward the net and Sparks was able to score on the rebound.

Coach Verkuilen gave credit to his whole team for playing hard.

Soldotna girls 4, North Pole 3

The Stars take a 12-5-0 record into the final after holding off a fierce comeback by the Patriots.

The Stars took a 4-0 lead in the first half. Bay Bloom started the scoring just three minutes in with a direct kick from 20 yards out.

Morgan Lemm then had a hat trick in less than 20 minutes.

Lemm started with unassisted goals in the 23rd and 29th minutes, then scored with three minutes left in the half on an assist from Bloom.

Up 4-0 with 11 or 12 minutes left, Love started doing some substitutions, some due to Sadie Lane and Kendra Rose getting injured.

With four subs on, North Pole scored with seven, five and two minutes left.

Love said he’s looking forward to the match against Kenai.

“From day one, I thought we could beat anybody on any given day,” he said. “We just have to be on our A game and play 80 minutes.

“Today, we played 74 and that’s where I came up with my subbing.”

Defender Keely Sundberg was player of the game for the Stars.

Homer girls 2, Nikiski 0

The Mariners moved to 7-11-1 with their third victory over the Bulldogs this season. Nikiski ends its season at 3-11-1 after making the first state appearance in program history.

The previous two victories over Nikiski for Homer were 5-0 and 5-2.

Minadora Reutov and Channing Lowney had the goals for Homer.

“Our girls were miserable from injuries and allergies, but they played hard and did their best,” Nikiski coach Angie Coelho said in a text message. “I’m so proud of them as a team.

“They have grown, developed skills and become better overall since their first game. A parent told me we are turning the program around. I wholeheartedly agree. I’m looking forward to next season!”

Savanna Stock was player of the game for the Bulldogs.

Soldotna boys 2, Palmer 1

The Stars go into the final at 11-3-3 overall.

The game was scoreless after the end of the first half, even with Gehret Medcoff and the SoHi offense putting the pressure on.

“Tons of wind that was swirling all over the place in this one,” Dolphin wrote in a text. “We had the bulk of the chances in the first half.

“Gehret hit off the post and we had several overall good looks.”

Just seconds into the second half, SoHi went up when Daniel Heath converted a throw-in from Zac Buckbee.

With 15 minutes left, Palmer equalized. Dolphin said goalie Luke Hillyer had his hands on a rebound, but the ball was kicked from his hands into the net and the referees ruled it was a good goal.

Led by Johnny Wardas, who was player of the game, and Medcoff, SoHi put pressure on Palmer. With six minutes left, Medcoff got into the box and the ball squirted to Heath, who was fouled for a penalty kick.

Simon Willets, who made clutch penalty kicks for SoHi all season, did so again to send the Stars to the state final.

Kenai boys 2, Homer 0

The Kardinals moved to 11-5-3 overall by ending Homer’s season at 5-10-3. Kenai finished with three wins and a tie against the Mariners.

Sawyer Vann and Enrique Mercado furnished the goals for Kenai, while Ezekiel Yragui had the shutout in net. Mercado was the player of the game.

“Guys played a great game and limited Homer’s chances,” Kenai coach Shane Lopez wrote in a text message.

Lopez wrote that Aloshia Cross did a great job winning the ball in the midfield and then building the attack. He added Carson Grimm and Daniel Shelden were excellent at center back.

Homer coach Adam Diaz credited his team with another great effort.

“The boys fought for 80 minutes and we had opportunities to score,” Diaz wrote. “Thank you to everyone that supported our team and cheered us on.

“It was an awesome season. We loved yelling and getting our boys and girls fired up during games.”

Owen Pitzman was player of the game for Homer.

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