Soldotna’s Meijan Leaf (on ground) protects herself from an aggressive attack by Grace Christian’s Maddy Morgan and Soldotna’s Whitney Wortham (26) Friday in a Division II state tournament semifinal at Service High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Meijan Leaf (on ground) protects herself from an aggressive attack by Grace Christian’s Maddy Morgan and Soldotna’s Whitney Wortham (26) Friday in a Division II state tournament semifinal at Service High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

SoHi girls 3rd, Kenai girls 4th at state soccer

The Soldotna girls finished third and the Kenai girls nabbed fourth this weekend at the Division II state soccer tournament in Anchorage.

The No. 2 seed Stars toppled No. 5 Palmer 1-0 in the third-place game Saturday to match third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, though those were in state tournaments including the whole state and not only small schools. The No. 6 Kardinals topped No. 4 North Pole 2-0 in the fourth-place game for the best finish in program history.

Also Friday, Soldotna had lost 3-2 to No. 3 Grace Christian in the semifinals. No. 1 Juneau-Douglas would defeat the Grizzlies 3-0 Saturday for the state title.

Palmer 1, Soldotna 0

On April 14, the Stars had defeated the Moose 3-0 in the regular season, but this one was much more dramatic as SoHi finished 12-3-2 overall.

With just five minutes to play, Katie Delker forayed into the box and was taken down, earning a penalty kick. Journey Miller stepped forward and scored the winning goal.

“Today was not at all like normal,” said Soldotna coach Jimmy Love, whose team won the academic award with a 3.65 grade-point average. “Yesterday zapped a lot of energy out of us.

“We played a short bench yesterday and today we opened it up a bit more.”

Love said his squad had its fair share of chances, but the Moose also forced SoHi goalie Maddie Kindred to make a few game-changing saves in preserving the shutout.

“Most girls met their goals by going to state,” Love said. “For me, it’s got to be a little bit more than that now. I don’t just want to go to state, I want to win state.”

The Stars lose seniors Whitney Wortham, Hannah Wells, Kindred and Ella Stenga. Love said there is plenty of young talent ready to lift the team next season.

“Kudos to the girls for coming out and fighting all year long,” Love said. “It’s a long and short season all in one breath, and at this point when school is out it can be hard to stay motivated. I look forward to next season.”

Kenai 2, North Pole 0

After putting pressure on North Pole throughout the game, the Kardinals made good on chances when Olivia Brewer scored in the 72nd minute and Liz Hanson scored in the second minute of stoppage time.

“We dominated play but struggled to put the ball in the net,” Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said after finishing 8-6-1. “We had 80 percent of the possession.”

With no overtime, Verkuilen admitted he started to get a little nervous even though his team was controlling the game.

“As it was getting into the 70th minute, I was like, ‘Geez, I don’t want to tie this game,’” he said.

As the team’s lone senior on the field, Verkuilen said Brenna Eubank did a great job of leadership and controlling the midfield even though she was battling abdomen and rib injuries. Verkuilen added Alissa Maw was a rock on defense and Brewer did a good job up front. Kailey Hamilton had the shutout in net.

“We just had one senior playing,” Verkuilen said. “We’re in a good spot for next year if everybody comes back healthy.”

Grace 3, Soldotna 2

Seeded second of six teams and arriving with fresh legs thanks to a bye day, the Soldotna girls had every reason to believe they would be headed to the Division II state soccer championship final. Just as long as they could take care of Grace Christian.

Things turned ugly pretty fast.

The third-seeded Grizzlies jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first 20 minutes of Friday’s semifinal match at Eagle River High School and held on to defeat the second-seeded Stars 3-2 to punch their way into Saturday’s championship game, the program’s first state soccer title game appearance.

The Stars were left wondering what happened after a late rally fell short.

“You had one team ready to play and one team that wasn’t,” explained SoHi head coach Jimmy Love. “If I could figure that out, I’d have it every game.”

Sophomore midfielder Journey Miller, who received player of the game honors and scored on a spectacular shot in the first half, said she felt the team wasn’t communicating as effectively as they could have, and it led to breakdowns on defense.

“We’ve worked hard all year, and we really wanted this,” Miller said. “We just came out flat.”

SoHi and Grace played to a 1-all draw in the regular season, and a lot has happened since that late April matchup, but both Love and Grizzlies head coach Jeff Schaezlein didn’t feel like either team was able to make major strides over their opponent.

“I think we played worse than last time, and I don’t think we played well the first time,” Love admitted.

Schaezlein praised his team for believing in each other. Grace doubled its all-time state tournament win total, a day after securing the program’s first state victory with a win over Kenai Central.

“I knew the group I had was dedicated and had the capability of making it (to the state final),” Schaezlein said. “But we knew SoHi would be a tough battle.”

The game was less than five minutes old when Grace took the first lead on a shot from Maddy Morgan.

While SoHi spent the next several minutes pressuring Grace’s net, the Grizzlies countered in the 12th minute with a quick attack that resulted in a penalty shot after a Grace player went down in the box. Amy Hatter converted with a laser shot into the bottom left corner for a 2-0 lead.

Kim Schaezlein made it 3-0 in the 19th minute on a long strike that dinged off the left post and past SoHi goalkeeper Maddie Kindred into the right corner.

SoHi finally answered just four minutes later with a goal from Miller that began with help from Faith Glassmaker. Miller launched a long ball from about 30 yards out that soared over the outstretched fingers of Grace goalkeeper Colleen Gamez, cutting the lead to 3-1.

From there, the game went scoreless for 54 minutes before Cameron Blackwell made things interesting. A free kick in Grace’s zone ended up bouncing around the goal box before Blackwell got a boot on it, scoring with just three minutes left in regulation.

Love said once the Stars got to within a goal, the pace picked up considerably, but there simply wasn’t enough time in the frantic final few minutes to find the equalizer.

“It’s like, why can’t we start like that from the get-go?” he said.

Soldotna goalkeeper Maddie Kindred (in orange) reaches high to make a save Friday in a Division II state tournament semifinal against Grace Christian at Service High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna goalkeeper Maddie Kindred (in orange) reaches high to make a save Friday in a Division II state tournament semifinal against Grace Christian at Service High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna senior Whitney Wortham puts a shot on Grace goalie Colleen Gamez Friday in a Division II state tournament semifinal at Service High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna senior Whitney Wortham puts a shot on Grace goalie Colleen Gamez Friday in a Division II state tournament semifinal at Service High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna goalie Maddie Kindred misses a penalty kick from Grace’s Maddy Morgan Friday in a Division II state tournament semifinal at Eagle River High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna goalie Maddie Kindred misses a penalty kick from Grace’s Maddy Morgan Friday in a Division II state tournament semifinal at Eagle River High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

More in Sports

Kenai Central's Sawyer Vann controls Nikiski's Wyatt Maguire at 125 pounds Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Nikiski High School in Nikiski, Alaska. Vann notched a 7-6 victory. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Area wrestlers collect mat time before Thanksgiving break

Area wrestlers got in some mat time Tuesday before the Thanksgiving break.… Continue reading

Soldotna junior Liam Babitt holds a grip on South Anchorage’s Britten Hamilton during the 215-pound final of the Lancer Smith Fall Varsity 2021 Invite on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 at the Menard Arena in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeremiah Bartz/Frontiersman)
Soldotna crowns 4 champions at Lancer Smith

The Soldotna wrestling team finished fourth Friday and Saturday at the Lancer… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Bryce Monrean tries to find a way through the defense of the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues during a first-period power play Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Jr. Blues come back to take series from Bears

The Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues lost not only a 2020-21 season to… Continue reading

Assistant coach Taylor Shaw leads the Kenai River Brown Bears during a game Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, against the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears start search for new head coach

The Kenai River Brown Bears issued a press release Friday about staff… Continue reading

tease
Hockey roundup: SoHi sweeps in Kodiak; West wins End of Road tourney

The Soldotna hockey team swept Kodiak in the first high school games… Continue reading

A brown bear feeds on a salmon. (Photo by C. Canterbury/USFWS)
Refuge Notebook: Bears, uniquely built to respond to winter

With the new snow and temperatures dipping into the single digits, you… Continue reading

Kenai Central's Caden Warren surveys the ice against West at the End of the Road Tournament at Kevin Bell Arena in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Kenai, Homer hockey lose to open tourney

The Kenai Central and Homer hockey teams both opened the End of… Continue reading

Caden Triggs of the Kenai River Brown Bears celebrates his first-period goal against the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears topple Jr. Blues

By JEFF HELMINIAK Peninsula Clarion The Kenai River Brown Bears received two… Continue reading

Michael proposes to Sarah at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Out of the Office: Falling in love one snowflake at a time

Do you want to know what I’ve been looking forward to the… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Caden Triggs carries the puck against Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Campbell Cichosz on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears to host 1st place Jr. Blues

The current stretch of the schedule for the Kenai River Brown Bears… Continue reading

Soldotna's Isaac Chavarria wrestles to a major decision over Kenai Central's Andrew Gaethle at 152 pounds during a dual meet at Kenai Central High School on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi wrestlers take dual meet from Kenai

The visiting Soldotna wrestling team defeated Kenai Central 69-6 in a dual… Continue reading