The Soldotna High School girls soccer team won their first Division II state soccer title Saturday in a long match with Kenai Central that went to a shootout.
Kenai entered the state championship as the No. 1 seed, boasting an 18-0-0 record. They had beaten Soldotna, the No. 2 seed, three times earlier this season.
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love, whose team finished 13-5-0, said he tried not to consider the events of the regular season when the Kenai-SoHi matchup was confirmed after the Friday semifinals.
“That’s done and gone,” he said. “Go out and play your game.”
Soldotna opened up the game early with a score by Jazzalynn McDonald less than 10 minutes in. Kenai quickly answered the score with a goal of its own by Rylie Sparks, who knocked it in with her head.
Only a couple of minutes later, Soldotna’s Bay Bloom restored the Stars’ lead. The game’s final goal would be scored with 10 minutes left in the first half by Kylee Verkuilen on a penalty kick.
The score remained 2-2 for the next 80 minutes of play — across the remainder of the first half, the second and four halves of overtime.
“The girls really battled,” Love said. “(Kenai) clearly had better possession in the second half than we did.”
Despite the pressure, Soldotna stayed in the fight with the help of over a dozen saves by goalie Sunny Miller.
“It was stressful,” Miller said after the game. “I’m glad we pulled through and did it.”
Love said that after the first two goals by Kenai, Miller dialed in.
“She was spot on,” Love said. “There wasn’t anything that she allowed to be in jeopardy.”
Miller said that she “honestly didn’t” manage the building pressure as clocks continued to wind down. She said she was “terrified” when the game entered a shootout.
“You just have to know that it eventually will come to an end,” she said. “Just get the ball. Make it stop.”
In the penalty kick shootout, Kenai Central’s Cali Holmes landed the first goal — the first ball to pass Miller in over an hour — but misses by Sarah Baisden and Kylee Verkuilen left the door open.
Soldotna’s Liberty Miller, Caylee Uribe-Koivisto and Bay Bloom all successfully got their shots past Kenai’s goalie, Maddie Malone, and sealed the game.
“They wanted it,” Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said after the game. “Just one of those days you couldn’t find the back of the net.”
The Kenai girls, Verkuilen said, “never stopped.” He said they knew they were leading on pressure, that they knew they could seal it.
Verkuilen pointed to his seniors as having successfully controlled the field — to Kori Moore, Sparks, Holmes, Chloe Goldsby, Brooklyn Martin and Ella Yragui. He also looked to his daughter Kylee Verkuilen, who scored one of their two goals.
“I think the girls all know that they played a good game and that they’re a good team,” he said. “Bottom line is SoHi came up and played hard.”
Love pointed to the Stars’ sweeper, Kendra Rose, who he said was responsible for “resetting” as each “wave” of Kenai’s offense came crashing down. But, he said, “There’s no way one person did anything more or better than another. … They all had to do this.”
Love, who’s coached at SoHi for 11 years, saw his team become the first girls program on the peninsula to win state. The Kenai Central boys have a pair of Division II titles to their credit.
“I don’t know I’ve realized what happened,” Love said. “I’m elated, this has been, for the last couple of years, that achieving moment.”
Juneau-Douglas boys 4, Soldotna 0
The Soldotna boys (11-4-3) fell to the Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kale in the Division II title match Saturday as the Crimson Bears defended their state title.
The Crimson Bears scored each of their four goals in the first half, one each landed by Ahmir Parker and Tayten Bennetsen and two by Kean Buss.
After the game, Bennetsen said the day’s performance was one of the Crimson Bears’ “best games.”
“It was just fun,” he said.
In the second half, the Stars held the Crimson Bears to a standstill but were unable to put a response on the scoreboard.
Collin Peck, a center back for the Stars, said that he saw a cleaner game in the second half — that the Stars could have had a stronger performance if they started off with that energy.
Soldotna coach Erik Dolphin said after the game that the Stars “weren’t as ready to play as we should have been.”
“But at the same time, I’m super proud of this group,” he said. “We have one senior graduating, besides that we’re returning all our other players. We’re playing three, four, five freshmen out there. … The future is bright for us.”
Dolphin said the three early goals landed by Juneau proved a steep mental hurdle for the Stars to overcome.
“As one of the people in the back, it was pretty hard on me,” Peck said. “But I realized that if the people in the back start losing their mind, everyone up front was gonna fall after. I just keep my head up and be the rock for our goalie.”
Juneau-Douglas coach Gary Lehnhart said the Crimson Bears were consistent, “solid down the middle.”
“We were really hard to beat,” he said. “Today was no different.”
Juneau-Douglas has six seniors, including Bennetsen. He said that ending his high school career on the victory was emotional.
“It basically summarizes the whole year,” he said. “It really came together.”
This year’s Juneau seniors, Lehnhart said, were the first to “accept my challenge.” He said they became coaches on the field, and that it was fun to step back and leave them to step up.
Offensively, Dolphin pointed to Zac Buckbee as “a rock” for the team and Simon Willets as a creative force. He credited their performance with delivering the Stars to the Saturday finals. He said that the team also regularly had to lean on Peck and Andrew Cox as center backs.
“All our guys I’m really proud of how they played this weekend,” he said.
Dolphin and his young team already had their eyes on the future minutes after their loss Saturday.
“This is our program’s second time ever coming to the final,” Peck, a junior, said. “Hopefully next year will be our first time punching that ticket.”
Kenai boys 1, Grace Christian 0
The Kenai Central boys (12-5-3) landed the fourth place finish in Division II with a victory over Grace Christian on Saturday. The game’s lone goal was secured by Wade James.
Coach Shane Lopez credited Ezekiel Yragui for the successful shutout of the Grizzlies.
“Really good job on the guys, especially in the second half, to keep most of the possessions on Grace’s half,” he said.
A big part of that control was a result of successful defensive play by Carson Grimm and Daniel Shelden, Lopez said. He also credited the midfield, Aloshia Cross and Ryker Dykema, for preventing the Grizzlies from building up their plays.
Lopez said that he’s seen teams struggle to recover from a first-day loss like the one Kenai suffered to Ketchikan on Thursday. He said he was pleased to see the Kardinals step up and finish their run in the tournament on a bright note.
“It shows that growth that they’ve had,” he said. “We’re graduating seniors but bringing a lot of guys back.”
Homer girls 2, Grace Christian 0
The Mariners (8-11-1) nabbed the fourth-place game Saturday behind goals from Kavindra Johnson and Izzy Dye.