The Soldotna boys have not won a Northern Lights Conference title since 1991. The Soldotna girls have not won a Northern Lights Conference title since 1993.
Both are two wins on their home floor from doing so this weekend.
The Stars boys have not gone to state since 2010. The Stars girls have not gone to state since 2014. Both are one win on their home floor from doing so this weekend.
With the Northern Lights Conference tournament set to run at Soldotna High School from Thursday to Saturday, opportunity is great. Will great moments follow?
“I don’t think our boys and girls have had this kind of success in a while,” said Soldotna boys head coach Nolan Rose of the No. 1-seeded girls and No. 3-seeded boys. “We’ve had a good year and the girls have had a phenomenal year.
“To have the opportunity to do that a year that we host regions and get to play games on our home floor is pretty cool. Friday night should be a pretty raucous environment.”
The Northern Lights Conference is down to five teams after Kenai Central dropped from Class 4A to Class 3A before this school year. That leads to a pared down tournament with just two games on tap for Thursday — No. 4 Kodiak and No. 5 seed Palmer in a boys contest at 6 p.m., and No. 4 seed Kodiak and No. 5 seed Palmer in a girls contest at 7:45 p.m.
The action heats up in a hurry Friday with semifinal play. On the girls side, the Stars face the Kodiak-Palmer winner at 7:45 p.m., while No. 2 Wasilla and No. 3 Colony tangle at 4:15 p.m.
Soldotna, 23-3 including endowment games and 8-0 in the conference, owns three blowout victories over Kodiak and two blowout victories over Palmer.
“We’ve told them, ever since we wrapped up the No. 1 seed, to embrace the opportunity and don’t take it for granted,” Soldotna girls head coach Kyle McFall said.
McFall would know. He’s coached for five years at Soldotna and coached for three years at now-closed Skyview High School before that, and has never been to state. The Stars and their sparkling record stand a great chance of being granted an at-large berth to state should they lose Friday, but McFall is taking no chances.
“We don’t want to look past Friday,” the coach said. “We talked to the girls about the unique opportunity, that not every year can you hope to play for the NLC championship on your home court, knowing you’ve beat those other teams.”
SoHi owns 58-51 and 51-46 victories over Colony and 56-41 and 49-47 victories over Wasilla. The Warriors have won four straight conference crowns and 14 of the last 18. Wasilla also was runner-up at state last season after winning it all in 2016 and 2017.
McFall said the Stars lean heavily on what he called the big four of seniors Aliann Schmidt, Danica Schmidt, Brittani Blossom and junior Ituau Tuisaula.
“They just have to make sure they do it together and not one of them steps up to be the hero,” McFall said. “They perform better as a team and not individuals, and they’ve done a great job of that this year.”
Sophomore Drysta Crosby-Schneider fills out the starting five with an attacking style of basketball on offense and a tenacious brand of defense. McFall said another asset in the tournament will be his coaching staff of Christa Kennedy, Curt Schmidt and Doug Blossom, a group that has been together for four years now.
Friday’s boys semifinals feature No. 1 Colony vs. the Kodiak-Palmer winner at 2:30 p.m. and No. 2 Wasilla vs. No. 3 Soldotna at 6 p.m.
Rose said he has no idea if the Stars could earn an at-large berth if they lose Friday.
“We’re playing it like a win and you’re in game,” he said. “We’re not really focused on the potential at-large berth at all.”
The Stars, 15-9 including endowments and 5-3 in the league, split with Wasilla this season, losing 54-40 and winning 38-33. The Warriors have won two straight NLC titles and 10 since 2002. Wasilla also is the defending state champion after finishing as runner-up in 2017.
“We held them to 33 points and played excellent defense,” Rose said. “The first game, we weren’t quite as sharp on the defensive end and they were able to take advantage of what we were trying to do.”
Rose said both teams have a similar build. There’s the star player — junior Jersey Truesdell for SoHi and Daniel Headdings for Wasilla. Rose said Headdings may be the best player in the state, and Truesdell lives for moments like those that will be available this weekend.
Both teams have a solid secondary scorer — junior Ray Chumley for SoHi and Luke Devine for Wasilla.
Then there are role players and solid defenders on both sides. Filling the roles for the Stars are juniors Zach Hanson and Tyler Morrison, and seniors Brock Kant and David Michael.
Rose also has not been to state in two years as a Skyview assistant, two years as a SoHi assistant and now in his third year as Stars head coach.
Should the Stars top Wasilla, the odds are Colony awaits in the finals. The Stars lost 72-42 and 41-34 to the Knights.
“It’s a long time for us both not to have won,” Rose said of the NLC title. “Kyle and I are both young coaches that have big aspirations as to what we can accomplish here.
“It’d be really cool if we both could make the championship game and see if one or both can make it happen. We’re closing in on the 30-year mark. We’re overdue.”
The tournament will be livestreamed at facebook.com/sohiathletics/.
Northern Lights Conference tournament
at Soldotna High School
Game 1 — Kodiak vs. Palmer, 6 p.m.
Game 2 — Colony vs. Game 1 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Game 3 — Wasilla vs. Soldotna, 6 p.m.
Game 4 — Lowest losing seed from Friday vs. Game 1 loser, 9 a.m.
Third-place game — Highest losing seed from Friday vs. Game 4 winner, 12:30 p.m.
Championship — Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 1 — Kodiak vs. Palmer, 7:45 p.m.
Game 2 — Soldotna vs. Game 1 winner, 7:45 p.m.
Game 3 — Wasilla vs. Colony, 4:15 p.m.
Game 4 — Lowest losing seed from Friday vs. Game 2 loser, 10:45 a.m.
Third-place game — Highest losing seed from Friday vs. Game 4 winner, 2:15 p.m.
Championship — Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner, 6 p.m.