For the very first time, the Homer boys soccer team won a conference tournament championship, topping Kenai Central on Saturday on the turf at Homer High School.
“It’s huge,” said head coach Warren Waldorf of the victory.
The 1-0 win over Kenai made the Mariners the Peninsula Conference soccer champions. Both they and Kenai, which was on a run of three straight conference titles and is the defending Division II state champ, will advance to the state championships in Anchorage next weekend.
Head coach Warren Waldorf kept his explanation of the game and victory brief.
“We got a goal, and we kept them from scoring a goal.” he said. “So we won.”
Senior forward Tom Gorman netted the game’s only goal in the 31st minute. Though Kenai was hungry to even the score and played with energy, a strong Homer defense, along with goalkeeper Clayton Beachy, was able to hold the Kardinals off for the rest of the match.
Kenai coach Shane Lopez said the game followed a pattern set by the teams all season. They tied 1-1 on April 16, and Kenai won 1-0 on May 9. So this means after three games, each team has scored two goals.
“They stayed tight defensively and we weren’t able to get the tying one in,” Lopez said, giving credit to Damien Redder, Travis McKinley and Nate Beiser for solid games.
Homer also played the game without Daniel Reutov, the Mariners’ leading scorer, after he was injured in Friday’s semifinal.
“Great team effort today,” Warren said. “The star of the team, is the team.”
Warren said he plans to rest the players for the next few days. He hopes to have Reutov back on the field in time for the state tournament, he said.
Earlier in the day, Soldotna knew it would have to play tough to edge out Homer in the Peninsula Conference championship, so that’s just what the Stars did Saturday afternoon.
The Stars cruised to a 4-0 victory to defend their conference title. Both teams are heading to the state championships next weekend in Anchorage.
Soldotna started off strong and never let up, earning the first goal less than 10 minutes into the game courtesy of Rhys Cannava on an assist from her sister, Ryann Cannava. The Stars enjoyed two more goals in the first half and one more in the second, while Homer struggled to find the energy needed to keep up.
To make matters more difficult, Homer senior and goalkeeper Ali McCarron took a blow to the head on a corner kick early in the game. Head coach Mike Tozzo said he didn’t want to take any chances by putting her back in, so sophomore Paige Jones went in the goal for the rest of the game.
“It’s a lot to ask to put someone who doesn’t play goalie in (during) a championship game like this,” he said.
Soldotna’s charge was led by Rhys Cannava with three goals. She also assisted Journey Miller, who scored the second goal of the game.
Katie Delker and Margarida Mendoca split the shutout in net, meaning the Stars did not allow a goal in the tournament.
Soldotna head coach Jimmy Love said one ever knows how things will play out when heading into a tournament like this one.
“Coming into today I thought, if we came out and played our game, I thought we had a good shot,” he said. “And today they probably played the best game that they have all year. And they needed to today, to win this.”
Love praised his team for the strong effort against Homer. In particular, the Stars did a better job of winning 50-50 balls, which he said they didn’t do last time they went against Homer.
“They played with poise, they played with possession,” Love said. “… Today they did exactly what I asked them to do, so they earned their victory today.”
Tozzo’s analysis of the game was simple.
“We just didn’t play well enough to win.” he said. “… It took a whole half for our energy to get up. I think we let goals, you know, get us down more than anything, more than normal.”
The fact that the Homer girls were still recovering from an exceptionally long semifinal game against Kenai the day before was probably also a factor, Tozzo said.
However, the team is still heading to the state tournament along with the Stars, and Tozzo said his message for the team will be the same as with any other game.
“Just always coming out with energy,” he said. “Always being the aggressor.”
Nikiski boys 3, Soldotna 0
The Bulldogs made their case for an at-large berth to the state tournament by topping the Stars for third place.
If the Alaska School Activities Association chooses Nikiski, it would be the first state berth in school history. The Stars have not been at state since 2016.
“I think one needs to come out of our region, and it’ll be us or SoHi, and we proved today we are the better team,” Nikiski coach Harrison Deveer said. “I believe we made our case by taking third.”
After losing a bunch of players for disciplinary reasons, Soldotna assistant Erik Dolphin said that after the past five games, it’s hard to make a case for the Stars.
“Nikiski, I think, deserves a state berth,” Dolphin said. “Harrison has turned the program around from barely fielding a team to competing at a high level with some of the best teams in the region.”
Deveer said his team was nervous because the state berth was at stake, but Michael Mysing rose to the occasion and carried the team.
At the start of the second half, he broke a scoreless tie by beating a defender and blasting a shot off the side post and in. Then, in the closing minutes, Mysing stole the ball from a defender and beat the goalie to ice the game.
Deveer gave Isiah Gray and Jim Lamping credit for gutting it out through injury. The coach also said SoHi could have won the game were it not for great saves by goalie Michael Eiter.
Dolphin gave credit to players like Cameron Johnson, Levi Rosin and Hunter Woodward for providing solid leadership through a trying season. He also said some young players like Ryder Giessler flourished with all the playing time provided by the suspended players.
“The future is bright,” Dolphin said. “The biggest thing for us is this was a cultural wakeup call. Every single guy we have left is a great kid so we should be able to transform the culture from this year.”
Kenai girls 2, Nikiski 0
The Kardinals wrapped up third place by making it through the tournament without allowing a goal after losing to Homer in the semifinals on penalty kicks.
Alyssa Bucho and Rileigh Pace had first-half goals to boost Kenai.
After getting blown out by Soldotna on Friday, Nikiski coach Linda Zimmerman was much happier with her team’s play.
“Everybody knew what we needed to do today to play better,” Zimmerman said. “I had four seniors on the field and I told them, ‘This is your last game. Leave it all on the field.’”
Zimmerman said senior Abby Bystedt, as always, was great in goal. She also said Emma Wik, Tika Zimmerman, America Jeffreys, McKinley Jeffreys and Hannah Young all played well.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clarion staff contributed to this report.
MVP — Alissa Maw, Kenai.
Coach of year — Dan Verkuilen, Kenai.
First-team all-conference — Olivia Brewer, Kenai; Jordyn Stock, Nikiski; Ali McCarron, Homer; Kappa Reutov, Homer; Eve Brau, Homer; Ryann Cannava, Soldotna; Meijan Leaf, Soldotna; Journey Miller, Soldotna.
Second-team all-conference — Damaris Severson, Kenai; Kailey Hamilton, Kenai; Abby Bystedt, Nikiski; Tika Zimmerman, Nikiski; Brenna McCarron, Homer; Rhys Cannava, Soldotna; Sequoia Severson, Seward; Naomi Ifflander, Seward.
Good sport team — Anya Danielson, Kenai; Alyssum Veldstra, Homer; Jordan Strausbaugh, Soldotna; Rosalie Anderson, Nikiski; Madilyn Moore, Seward.
MVP — Damien Redder, Kenai.
Coach of year — Shane Lopez, Kenai.
First-team all-conference — Travis McKinley, Kenai; Daniel Reutov, Homer; Dexter Lowe, Homer; Michael Mysing, Nikiski; Michael Eiter, Nikiski; Cameron Johnson, Soldotna; Levi Rosin, Soldotna; Max Pfeiffenberger, Seward.
Second-team all-conference — Tomas Levy-Canedo, Kenai; Braedon Pitsch, Kenai; Clayton Beachy, Homer; Austin Shafford, Homer; Gavin White, Nikiski; Sam Koster, Seward; Collin Mullaly, Seward.
Good sport team — Tucker Vann, Kenai; Avram Salzman, Homer; Shane Weathers, Nikiski; Nathaniel Basalo, Seward; Levi Rosin, Soldotna.