The Soldotna girls and boys soccer teams swept the Peninsula Conference titles Saturday at Kenai Central High School.
The SoHi girls topped Homer 2-0 to take their third-straight crown, while the Stars boys defeated Kenai 1-0 to become the third different champion in the last three years of the tournament. Both the Homer girls and Kenai boys also earned Division II state berths.
Soldotna’s Rhys Cannava and Josh Hieber were named the MVP of the conference before the championship games started. Both played major roles in earning the Stars the titles.
In the 36th minute, Cannava earned a free kick just outside the penalty area. Jolie Widaman took advantage by curling the free kick around the wall and into the upper far corner of the net.
Had SoHi not scored in the first half, they would have had to try and get a goal going into a strong wind in the second half.
Stars coach Jimmy Love said the free kick was more evidence of Widaman blossoming as a defender who can also aid in the attack.
“She’s got a great touch on the ball and in the last few games she’s realizing that more and more, and taking advantage,” Love said.
In the second half, Homer pressed forward more and more. With just two minutes left, Cannava got a breakaway and scored on assists from Sierra Kuntz and Bay Bloom.
Sunny Miller then finished off the shutout in net, with Love saying the back line played a great game for his team.
“It never gets old,” Love said of the third straight title. “That’s why we’re out here. It’s what the girls worked hard for all season.”
Homer coach Mike Tozzo, the conference coach of the year, was ready to move on and go to state. The Mariners got several sparkling saves from Felicia Weisser in the game, but it was not enough to solve the Stars.
“We’ve got to figure out how to beat them, because I’m sure we’ll see them again at state,” Tozzo said.
In the boys game, Hieber scored in the fourth minute. As the game went on, he showed his worth by moving from forward to midfield and finally to defense.
“Basically, he just went where he was needed most,” said SoHi coach Erik Dolphin, the conference boys coach of the year.
Dolphin said goalie Gehret Medcoff and the back line of Aiden Willets, Tyler Johnson and Zac Buckbee deserve a lot of credit for seeing out a 1-0 victory after such an early goal.
“Because of the weird system we play, we put a lot of pressure on our back three,” Dolphin said.
Dolphin said the shutout is even more impressive against a talented team like Kenai, with dangerous players like Leif Lofquist and James Baisden.
“It’s huge for the program, it’s huge for the school and it’s huge for the guys,” Dolphin said of the title. “In the last couple of years, they’ve faced adversity and different, weird things, so it was nice to finally get this.”
Kenai lost in the conference final for the second straight time.
“It’s a heartbreaker to lose, especially hosting at home and it being the seniors’ last game on home turf,” Kenai coach Shane Lopez said.
In particular, Lopez said senior midfielder James Baisden and senior goalie Aidan Milburn stood out. The Kards are still the defending state champs, having come back from a conference final loss in 2019 to claim state.
“We’ve got state coming up next weekend and we’re still getting better,” Lopez said. “We have that goal ahead of us next week.”
Homer boys 3, Nikiski 1
Eyoab Knapp, Casey Otis and Theo McDonough scored for the Mariners to win the third-place game. Owen Pitzman and Sean McDonough had assists.
Austin Stafford had a late goal for Nikiski.
Homer coach Adam Diaz said as far as he knows, there is no at-large berth to the Division II state tournament this season, so Homer’s season is over.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to coach this team,” Diaz said. “It’s one of the groups I’ve seen improve most during the year.”
Kenai girls 8, Nikiski 0
Senior Bethany Morris finished with a hat trick to lead the Kards to third place.
Taylor Pierce added two goals for the Kards, while Emma Beck, Kylee Verkuilen and Calani Holmes also scored. Verkuilen had two assists, while Ella Yragui also had an assist.
Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen also said there are no at-large berths this year. He said Saturday was a fun way to end the season.
“The last week and a half, the touches, the shots, everything has gotten so much better,” he said. “This team improved a lot during the year.”
Kenai boys 2, Homer 1
Leif Lofquist did it again.
The Kenai senior added to his batch of big goals by scoring eight minutes into the first 10-minute overtime period in Friday’s semifinal to give the Kardinals a spot in the conference finals and a sixth straight berth at state.
Since it was not sudden-death overtime, Kenai hung on through a 10-minute period to send the Mariners to the third-place game.
In a 3-2 victory over Juneau in the 2019 Division II state final, Lofquist scored in overtime, then again in sudden-death overtime, to give the Kardinals a second-straight state title.
“Leif has been a key player since freshman year,” Kenai head coach Shane Lopez said. “He’s come through with some of our biggest goal, including that legendary goal at state.”
Just six minutes into the game, Homer’s Kazden Stineff sustained a serious lower leg injury that paused the game for about eight minutes.
Lopez gave credit to Homer for continuing to play so well as one of their teammates was being taken away in an ambulance.
“The team wanted to do it for Kazden,” Homer coach Adam Diaz said.
In the 31st minute, Lofquist, in his signature style, put the Kards up by emerging from a crowd of defenders to place a perfect shot on net.
But Homer answered in the 43rd minute (seven minutes were added to the first half for injury time) when Eyoab Knapp found Clayton Beachy on a perfectly timed set piece. Diaz said Homer’s work on set pieces has paid off this season.
After a scoreless second half, Lofquist provided the difference in OT by again weaving through a crowd and scoring.
“That’s what this time of year is,” Lopez said. “You have to dig deep in pressure situations.”
The Kenai coach gave credit to Joe Hamilton and Lucas Tunseth for strong games on defense and Aidan Milburn for good goalkeeping.
Diaz, whose team was seeking a seventh state berth in nine years, was happy with the effort his small team put forth as most were playing the entire game.
“We’ve been trying to instill fight to the end and today they did that,” Diaz said.
Homer girls 2, Kenai 0
In 2019, the Mariners earned their first state berth since 2007. In Friday’s semifinals, they made it two state trips in a row by defeating Kenai, which was looking for an eight-straight state berth and ninth in 10 years.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Homer coach Mike Tozzo said of the state berth. “The kids worked hard for that goal.
“Now the goal is to win a state championship. They have the players to play with anyone, but there are a lot of good teams out there.”
Just six minutes into the game, Debbie Weisser played a corner into the box that knocked around and ended up in the net. The goal was rewarded to Kappa Reutov, though Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said it was an own goal.
In the 36th minute, Kenai goalie Emma Beck came out of the penalty area to clear a ball with her feet. It bounced off Homer’s Sela Weisser and into the net.
“It was a good play,” Verkuilen said of Beck’s attempted clear. “It’s exactly what I’d want a goalie to do. She’s only a freshman and she’s going to be an amazing goalie if she sticks with it.”
Kenai turned up the pressure in the second half but couldn’t score. Verkuilen said the team’s mainstays played well, but young and old players also stepped up and played their best games of the season.
“They could have held their heads down but they went out and played an amazing second half,” Verkuilen said.
Homer goalie Felicia Weisser used solid positioning to thwart the Kards.
“Felicia saved us a few times,” Tozzo said, adding everybody on his team played well enough to win.
Soldotna boys 10, Nikiski 0
The Stars earned their first state berth since 2016 by cruising in Friday’s semifinals. Josh Hieber had two goals and six assists for Soldotna.
Soldotna girls 14, Nikiski 0
The Stars earned an eighth state berth in nine years by winning Friday’s semifinal.
Rhys Cannava had three goals and two assists, while Bay Bloom had two goals and two assists, Sierra Kuntz had a goal and two assists, Katharine Bramante had a goal and an assist, Liberty Miller had two assists, Lily Coon had two goals, Jolie Widaman had a goal, Grace McElroy had an assist, Katie Delker had a goal, Avrie Medina had a goal, Caleigh Glassmaker had a goal and Erin Einerson had a goal.
Peninsula Conference awards
Coach of year — Erik Dolphin, Soldotna.
MVP — Josh Hieber, Soldotna.
First team — Leif Lofquist, Kenai; Clayton Beachy, Homer; James Baisden, Kenai; Joe Hamilton, Ken; Aiden Willets, Soldotna; Parker Lowney, Homer; Eyoab Knapp, Homer; Dylan Walton, Soldotna.
Second team — Koa Diorec, Kenai; Gavin White, Nikiski; Jose Montague, Soldotna, Jim Lamping, Nikiski; River Tomrdle, Kenai.
Good sport — Zac Buckbee, Soldotna; Lucas Tunseth, Kenai; Anthony Basargin, Homer; Christopher Druesedow, Nikiski.
Coach of year — Mike Tozzo, Homer.
MVP — Rhys Cannava, Soldotna.
First team — Kylee Verkuilen, Kenai; Debbie Weisser, Homer; Katie Delker, Soldotna; Caleigh Glassmaker, Soldotna; Bethany Morris, Kenai; Emma Weeks, Nikiski; Paige Jones, Homer; Felicia Weisser, Homer; Kori Moore, Kenai.
Second team — Harmony Davidson, Homer; Katherine Bramante, Soldotna; Jess Sonnen, Homer; Valerie Villegas, Kenai; Sierra Kuntz, Soldotna; Julia Hanson, Kenai; Diva Thies, Nikiski.
Good sport — Grace McElroy, Soldotna; Amber Nash, Kenai; Felicia Weisser, Homer; Rosalie Anderson, Nikiski.