Rivalries are part of what makes sports so entertaining, and they often bring out the best of both teams involved.
Records and win streaks can sometimes be tossed out the window because of how well two opponents know each other.
On a brisk Tuesday night at the Nest on Hillcrest, the defending Division I state champion South Anchorage boys soccer team faced off with rival West for the second time this season in a rematch of last year’s state title game.
The Wolverines (9-1-1) won 3-1 on the road to complete a regular-season sweep of the Eagles (5-3-3) and put themselves in the driver’s seat to secure the Cook Inlet Conference title with three games left in the regular season.
“The two games against West this season have been battles,” South head coach Brian Lux said. “They try to raise the temperature, and we try to keep it calm and play. I think we stayed calm enough to get the result.”
South only has two more conference games, and with a win or a tie in one of their last two, the Wolverines officially clinch the CIC title.
“We’re going to try to win both and finish the conference schedule undefeated and get ready for the state playoffs,” Lux said.
Senior captain Tate Metrokin scored the first goal of the game and began flapping his arms like a bird as he ran past the Eagles’ bench in celebration.
“I had to do it,” he said. “We had a little bit of a conversation before the game that if one of us scored, it had to be the Eagles’ celebration, so I had to pull it out.”
Senior Ashton Lee scored a goal to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead at halftime, but the Eagles quickly responded with a goal from sophomore Porter Youngman in the first minute of the second half.
While the breeze brought a chill, the players on the field and even some of the coaches on the sidelines were heated.
“Everybody expected West to knock off South last year in the final, and I think it was a little bit of an upset, so there’s been a little bit more emotion in these two games that we’ve played them. But games like that are fun,” Lux said.
Tempers flared, especially in the second half, and a physical altercation broke out on the field after Youngman collided with South sophomore goalkeeper Ralf Braun.
“They kind of came into our goalkeeper there on the challenge, and that’s a good way to kind of rile everybody up,” Lux said.
Yellow cards were issued to both Youngman and South junior Michael Wagner, but the Wolverines managed to keep their composure. Matthew Wagner scored the team’s third and final goal a few minutes later.
“If we kept our emotions high like we had them at the start of the second half, we would’ve had some problems, but we were able to stay composed and get another one in,” Metrokin said.
Lux, who is in his first year as head coach, told his players after the game that their response was perfect.
“There was no panic, no anger. They just kept getting the job done,” he said.
As the reigning state champions, the South players do feel like they have a bit of a target on their backs, Metrokin said.
“Every team comes in a little bit harder than they did last year,” Metrokin said. “Before we won state last year, we were definitely the underdog.”
With its sweep of West, South captured its eighth straight win since suffering a 2-0 loss at the hands of top-ranked and undefeated Colony (14-0-1) on April 14.
“We’ve got a lot better since then, and I think it will be a good battle,” Lux said. “We’re going to try to go out and win and keep the momentum going into the playoffs.”
Since that humbling loss, South has been on an impressive run, outscoring its last eight opponents 46-5 during the winning streak.
On Saturday, the Wolverines will have a chance to celebrate their graduating class and potentially exact some revenge when they host the Colony Knights at noon in a game that will act as the team’s Senior Night.
“I think it would mean a lot if could beat the one team we haven’t beat this year out of all the teams we’ve played,” Metrokin said. “If we can get a win against them, at least we know we can beat everyone that we’ve played so far.”