Tuesday’s Peninsula Conference soccer game between the Soldotna and Homer boys at Soldotna High School provided a lesson in early season vs. postseason.
In the early season, everybody can be happy due to possibility. In the postseason, only one side rejoices due to finality.
The last time the Stars and Mariners met on this pitch was mid-May last year, when a 2-1 victory on penalty kicks in the Peninsula Conference finals sent Homer through to state and ended Soldotna’s shot at state.
Tuesday, the Stars rolled to a 3-0 victory to improve to 1-0 in the league and 1-2 overall. Homer falls to 0-1 and 0-1.
In girls action down in Homer, the Stars scored late to secure a 3-3 tie against the Mariners.
On both sides in the boys contest, last year was a distant memory and the focus was squarely on the young season.
“It’s a new year, a new team, a new story,” Homer coach Warren Waldorf said.
Soldotna head coach David Holmes is in his first year at the helm. He was more concerned about how his squad has looked in losses to West Valley and West High in Anchorage than a game last season in which he played no role.
“We came in here today and turned things around,” Holmes said. “We played like the team I know, communicating and keeping possession.
“I feel a lot better now than I did earlier in the day.”
Sophomore scoring sensation Josh Heiber showed teams will find trouble if they focus too much on him by dishing off all three of the game’s assists.
Just over two minutes into the game, Heiber crossed the ball to senior Kaleb Swank, who came to Soldotna this season from California. Swank rose and placed a header just over the glove of Homer keeper Tucker Weston.
“He climbed the ladder for that one,” Soldotna assistant Erik Dolphin said. “It was a pretty finish.”
Junior Alex Montague has been a sure finisher for the Stars and he showed what he can do with the extra space created by Heiber with a pair of goals to finish off the Mariners. After Montague banged a shot off the side post in the seventh minute, he converted a through ball from Heiber in the 29th minute.
“It was tough to sit at 2-0,” Holmes said. “It gives a false security.”
Holmes could finally rest easier with just over three minutes left in the game, when Heiber fed Montague a long ball on a counterattack and Montague finished.
In addition to the fine attacking by Swank, Heiber and Montague, Holmes credited the play of Tyler Johnson and Kobe Miller. Johnson pitched a shutout in the net while filling in for the injured Hunter Woodward. Miller also was a big part of that goose egg for his work on Homer’s dangerous Eyoab Knapp.
Though on the losing end, Waldorf also was happy with his team.
“We were focused on the process today, we weren’t focused on the result,” he said. “We played well. We had some chances.”
The Mariners were without three starters. Waldorf said the work of Knapp, a sophomore, on the outside was a pleasant surprise.
“We weren’t sure how he would hold up in a game,” the coach said.
Waldorf also was happy with the center of his midfield and defense. Austin Shafford and Dexter Lowe are in the center of the midfield, while Avram Salzmann and Clayton Beachy are in the middle on defense. The coach also liked the work of Tom Gorman up top and on the outside of the midfield.
With no junior varsity game Tuesday, Waldorf was happy to get all his players some varsity time. While the inexperience showed, he also said the players learned quickly from their mistakes.
Soldotna 3, Homer 3
SoHi freshman Rhys Cannava scored in the final two minutes of the game to end the Peninsula Conference contest in a tie.
SoHi is 0-1-1 overall and 0-0-1 in the league, while Homer is 0-0-1 and 0-0-1.
“Our season started like it did last year, with a 1-1 tie to Soldotna,” Homer coach Mike Tozzo said. “Last year, we had a great team, and we have a really great team this year too.
“If we can keep this momentum and keep playing the way we did today, the sky’s the limit for us.”
The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead just three minutes in when Laura Inama scored on an assist from Kappa Reutov.
“I was shocked, honestly, at how well we came out playing,” Tozzo said. “I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t think we could do that, but that’s not normally the way we come out.”
Midway through the half, Reutov scored on an assist from Sela Weisser. Tozzo said those are both freshmen so that bodes well for the future.
Tozzo said it doesn’t take letting off the pressure much for a great team like Soldotna to come back, and he said his team did just that as the Stars had the game tied midway through the second half. Journey Miller scored on an assist from Ryann Cannava and Rhys Cannava scored on an assist from Meijan Leaf.
Less than three minutes later, Reutov drew a penalty kick and Eve Brau converted for a 3-2 lead.
“We started playing a lot better,” Tozzo said. “After the penalty kick, we were playing like we did in the first half.”
Rhys Cannava, assisted by Sierra Kuntz, still managed to break through. Tozzo said goalie Ali McCarron was superb and there was nothing she could do about the goal. He added it was just a case of a great player on a great team refusing to lose.