The coaches for the Kenai Peninsula teams at the Division II state soccer tournament don’t know much about the other teams in the tournament, but they do know enough about their own teams to be confident in their chances.
In the girls tournament, Soldotna opens with Monroe Catholic today at 7 p.m. at Service, while Homer starts with North Pole at 9 a.m. at Service.
The Stars come into the tournament 10-2-3 overall and are coming off a Peninsula Conference championship. SoHi has never won state, coming closest by finishing runner-up in 2019.
After losing the 2020 season to the coronavirus pandemic, SoHi coach Jimmy Love is grateful to be back at state.
“Losing last season left a bitter taste in my mouth,” Love said. “I’m glad the board at (the Alaska School Activities Association) decided to see this through. I’m just very thankful we’re at state and able to play.”
Love said all he has been able to find on the Rams is one newspaper article. The coach said the emphasis is on playing to full effort and potential.
“If we’re playing at our absolute best, we should be playing in the Saturday championship game, but all the other coaches would tell you the same thing,” he said. “If you leave everything out there, and you walk off with a loss, there will be no regrets. Regrets when you lose — that’s what bothers me.”
Homer coach Mike Tozzo said he probably knows even less about North Pole than Love knows about Monroe. The Mariners are 8-2-1 overall and also chasing their first state title.
“If we go up and lose two games in a row, it won’t bother me unless we went up and played poorly with no effort,” Tozzo said. “If we fight hard for two games, I wouldn’t mind if we come home early.”
At the same time, Tozzo said his team has the ability to make the championship game, even missing scoring threat Kappa Reutov due to injury.
On the boys side, Soldotna opens with Palmer at 11 a.m. at Eagle River, while Kenai starts with Grace Christian at 9 a.m. at West Anchorage.
The Kardinals, at 8-4-2, have plenty of championship DNA to rely on. Kenai won the Division II state titles in 2018 and 2019. Leif Lofquist, James Baisden, Tucker Vann, River Tomrdle, Aidan Milburn, Joe Hamilton and Koa Diorec were part of the 2019 effort, while Lofquist, Baisden, Milburn and Diorec were part of the 2018 effort.
In addition, Lofquist, Diorec, Milburn and Lucas Tunseth won a State Soccer Cup for the Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club in 2015.
Kenai coach Shane Lopez said Milburn will not be available at goalie, with Wade James taking over. Kenai also will get a boost when Vann returns to the team after missing the conference tournament while wrestling to second place at 189 pounds in the Division II state wrestling tournament.
Lopez said his starting seniors and Hamilton, a junior, will be pivotal.
“Experience makes a difference in knowing what to expect and believing in yourselves and your teammates,” Lopez said. “There’s a belief you can go in and put games away, and that’s definitely a challenge in a tough bracket.”
The coach of that 2015 state championship team was Erik Dolphin, now the SoHi boys coach. Stars Josh Hieber, Dylan Walton, Jose Montague and Trenton O’Reagan were all on that team.
Dolphin said he was very disappointed when the season was canceled in 2020, because some graduates associated with the championship group also would have been in the mix.
“In the Kenai-Soldotna game, every starting spot would have had some sort of affiliation with that group,” Dolphin said.
As it is, Dolphin is looking forward to watching this group go for a state title. The Stars are 9-1-3 and coming off a conference title. The coach said this is the best Soldotna team in quite some time.
The Stars, who defeated Palmer 6-0 and tied Palmer at 1, are led by Hieber.
“I legitimately think Josh Hieber is the most talented individual player in the state, and Leif isn’t that far behind,” Dolphin said.
But if if were not for those two grabbing headlines, Dolphin said Aiden Willets would get a lot more attention for being such a solid defender.
Dolphin said his squad is focused on each game, but he also said he couldn’t help but notice Kenai is on the other side of the bracket.
“If we could both make it to the championship game, that’d be an interesting matchup,” he said.
Division II state soccer tournament
Game 1 — Juneau vs. Palmer, 9 a.m. at Eagle River
Game 2 — North Pole vs. Homer, 9 a.m. at Service
Game 3 — Soldotna vs. Monroe, 7 p.m. at Service
Game 4 — Redington vs. Thunder Mountain, 7 p.m. at West
Game 5 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 3 p.m. at Service
Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m. at Service
Game 7 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 1 p.m. at Eagle River
Game 8 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 3 p.m. at Eagle River
Fourth-place game — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 9 a.m. at West
Third-place game — Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 9 a.m. at Service
Championship — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 11:30 a.m. at Service
Game 1 — Soldotna vs. Palmer, 11 a.m. at Eagle River
Game 2 — North Pole vs. Juneau, 3 p.m. at Eagle River
Game 3 — Thunder Mountain vs. Monroe, 1 p.m. at Eagle River
Game 4 — Grace vs. Kenai, 9 a.m. at West
Game 5 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 11 a.m. at Service
Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 11 a.m. at West
Game 7 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9 a.m. at Service
Game 8 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 9 a.m. at West
Fourth-place game — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 10:45 a.m. at Eagle River
Third-place game — Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 10:45 a.m. at West
Championship — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 1:30 p.m. at Service