A 7-0 win at home over Nikiski just two weeks ago left the Soldotna girls soccer team feeling like the Stars squads that have been to the state tournament in each of the past six years.
Saturday, playing at a cold, blustery, natural-grass Nikiski field, Soldotna picked up the 3-0 win, but it was the Bulldogs making strides in closing the gap to the mighty Stars.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these girls,” said Nikiski coach Troy Zimmerman. “This was a measuring stick for us, and we were within striking distance all game.”
An improved Nikiski defensive line held strong all day against SoHi’s waves of attacks, and by halftime, the Stars led just 1-0. Overall, SoHi outshot Nikiski 16-1.
Thursday against Kodiak, the Bulldogs posted a shutout thanks to their gritty defensive line.
Saturday, the Stars got goals from Reagan Schoessler, Jaela Hubbard and Abi Tuttle, while Ella Stenga earned the shutout in goal.
The win bumped SoHi’s record to 7-3 overall, while Nikiski saw its three-game win streak come to an end with the loss and are 3-4 overall.
A brutal headwind stared SoHi in the face in the first half, which may explain the slim 1-0 lead at halftime, but Stars coach Jimmy Love refused to blame the negligible lead on the weather.
“We just didn’t come very prepared,” Love said.
Soldotna was also without the services of defenders Hannah Wells and Anna Wrobel, and Saturday was the first time all season that the Stars played a contest on natural grass.
“I don’t think we adjusted to that, but it was more than that,” Love said. “We just didn’t pull the trigger.”
Schoessler opened the scoring 11 minutes in with a shot off a rebound. Alyssa Wolfe blasted a close range shot at Nikiski’s net, but Melanie Sexton was there to make the big stop. However, the rebound was collected by a Soldotna player and dumped off to Schoessler in the goalie box, who rattled off the second-chance goal.
With a 1-0 game at halftime, it appeared that Nikiski had a shot at pulling the upset.
“The difference between our last game and today was our intensity,” Zimmerman explained.
However, Soldotna finally found its form in the second half with two goals in the first 10 minutes. Hubbard scored three minutes in, beating a Nikiski defender on a quick turn and slotting home the insurance goal for a 2-0 lead, then Tuttle worked her magic in the 48th minute, taking a cross from Whitney Wortham from the right side of the box and tapping in the third goal.
Soldotna boys 9, Nikiski 0
SoHi senior Dylan Kuntz tallied a hat trick in the first half to fuel the Stars to a dominant win over the Bulldogs Saturday at Nikiski.
With the win, the Stars moved to 8-3 overall, while the Bulldogs sunk to 1-5.
Kuntz, who has spent most of his prep soccer career in more of a defensive role, has seen his scoring total hike up this year due to a shift in position. Kuntz had one career goal in high school play coming into his senior campaign, but now that total has reached into the double digits this year, and Saturday was his first hat trick.
“I’ve never been a goal scorer before this year,” Kuntz said.
Kuntz credited midfielder Andrew Hammond with assisting on two of his three, and with an abrasive wind in their face in the first half, the quick touches worked. Kuntz scored five minutes into the game with a through ball that he poked by Nikiski goalkeeper Warren Gage for a 1-0 lead.
Kuntz added another goal in the 26th minute, just moments after a SoHi corner kick. The shot rebounded off Gage and was kicked around a scrum in the goalie box before Kuntz got his foot on it to deliver the goal for a 2-0 Stars lead.
“He placed it right for me on those two, and especially going against that wind, it helped,” Kuntz said. “Once you get running, it’s not bad, but it’s still cold.”
Kuntz capped off his hattie just three minutes later with an assist from Eric Mayoral, who sent a cross from the left corner to Kuntz, who deposited the ball in the right side netting.
SoHi coach Darryl Byerley said he was happy to see his squad control possession and set the pace from the beginning.
“The other midfielders have continued to build, and that’s given us opportunities to score,” Byerley said. “It just happened to be Dylan’s foot that scored this game.”
Connor Larson scored four minutes into the second half to push the lead to 4-0, and Mayoral had a goal at the 63rd minute for SoHi.
Nikiski midfielder Logan Griffel was sent off in the 66th minute on a yellow card for an aggressive tackle, and on the subsequent free kick taken by Kuntz, it was Johnny Smithwick getting a head on the ball to volley it in the net for a 6-0 advantage.