Kaylee Wolfe said she and her teammates on the Soldotna girls soccer team are not known for blistering starts, but Thursday afternoon the Stars at least offered a legitimate reason for their early lethargy.
Three hours on a bus does not make for lively legs.
After making the morning journey from the Peninsula to Chugiak and enduring a scoreless first half, Soldotna gained its groove in the second half and beat Grace Christian, 3-0, in the state high school tournament at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.
"The first half, we came out kind of tired and slow, coming right off the bus,'' said Wolfe, who furnished two principal assists. "We tried a lot harder in the second half. We knew we needed to be more aggressive.
"All of our first halves, we kind of start out slow, and in the second half we play better.''
Soldotna nearly struck in the first half of its tournament opener --Taryn McCubbins struck the right post in the ninth minute, and Kelci Benson's shot glanced off the outside of that post in the 19th minute -- and broke through quickly in the second half.
McCubbins, Kaylee Wolfe and her sister, Miranda Wolfe, combined on a splendid attack that opened the scoring in the 47th minute.
McCubbins, charging through midfield, put a ball through on the left side and Kaylee Wolfe chased it down not far from the corner before centering a pass to her sister. Miranda Wolfe adjusted her run, gained position on a defender and chipped the ball home.
That began a 15-minute stretch in which Grace Christian came agonizingly close to getting the match squared, only to have its deficit reach two goals.
Grace's Morgan Lash rocketed a shot from the right flank in the 54th minute, but Soldotna goalkeeper Katelynn Kerkvliet smothered the ball to her body. One minute later, Kerkvliet became tangled with a Grace player at the left post while securing the ball off a Grizzlies corner kick. Kerkvliet got a little rough and Grace was awarded a penalty kick.
Shannon McNamara had Kerkvliet beaten on the penalty kick, but her right-footed strike curled just a sliver wide of the left post. Three minutes later, Grace's Laura Aspelund chipped a shot over Kerkvliet, but her bid ricocheted off the left post. Soon after that, a Grace corner kick swept across the front of the Stars' goal.
Grace goalkeeper Katelyn Houston, who came out for a short time in the first half to get a bloody nose worked on after colliding with a Soldotna player, kept encouraging her teammates as they pressed for the equalizer.
"It's gonna happen, guys,'' Houston hollered. "Let's go.''
In short order, though, Miranda Wolfe won a ball battle with a Grace defender and booted a shot that Houston deflected slightly with her right arm. But Wolfe's shot was hard enough to withstand that near-save and it veered into the net for a 2-0 Stars lead.
Benson gave Soldotna an insurmountable lead -- and secured a spot in Friday's semifinals -- in the 73rd minute, when Kaylee Wolfe fed her a long assist off a free kick. Benson pursued Wolfe's arcing kick from near the left sideline 45 yards from goal and banged in a strike to push the Stars' cushion to 3-0.
By then, the Stars had long put a long bus ride behind them.
"We had to work with it,'' Miranda Wolfe said. "We won, though, and that's all that mattered.''
Colony 2, W. Valley 1
Peyton Johnstone scored one goal and assisted on another to spark Colony to a 2-1 opening-round victory over West Valley at Eagle River.
Johnstone furnished her goal off an assist from Bristyl Baker and set up Ariana Saxon's goal.
Audrey Wade scored late in the match for West Valley.
Service 5,Thunder Mountain 0
Haleigh Van Allen’s hat trick and assist helped Service overwhelm Thunder Mountain 5-0 at Eagle River.
Rachel Juliussen and Madisin Jennings also scored for the Cougars, and Trysten Bailey got the shutout.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY