From humble beginnings as words on a board, the Kenai Central boys turned dreams to reality Saturday afternoon with a history-making victory.
On the same Service High School field on which they competed for the state soccer championship two years ago, the Kardinals finished the job and became the first peninsula school to win a state crown in the sport, defeating Juneau-Douglas 3-0 Saturday in the Division II final to accomplish their ultimate goal.
And to celebrate, the players got to douse head coach Joel Reemtsma with an ice water bath at the final whistle.
“We have a team of heroes,” Reemtsma said. “Every guy we have feels like they can do something great.”
Reemtsma is a 2000 KCHS graduate, and knows the history of the program. In the team’s fourth consecutive appearance at state, Reemtsma was happy to bring the team the ultimate prize.
“It feels incredible to have something you’ve worked for years for,” he said. “We’ve spent hours in the rain, in the cold, training hard before the season.
“It’s been an incredible journey.”
The Kards took control early and did not let up in the convincing victory. Senior sweeper Rykker Riddall put Kenai on the board in the 13th minute by getting his head on a throw-in by fellow senior Zack Tuttle, depositing the shot into the lower right corner before celebrating with a back flip at midfield.
In a regular season meeting in April, Kenai prevailed 1-0 over Juneau, and Riddall said it was important not to enter Saturday by taking the game for granted.
“It’s challenging after beating them to not come in overconfident,” Riddall said. “It’s a good feeling, it’s well deserved.”
Tuttle buried the third and final goal with just 13 minutes left in the contest, breaking free from his defender and getting behind Juneau goalkeeper Mitchell McDonald on a breakaway to put away the dagger.
“I’ve felt like we’re the best team in the state, and it’s championship or bust,” Tuttle said. “I don’t think we’ve always gotten the recognition … so to finally get this feels good.”
Braedon Pitsch earned the shutout in goal for the Kardinals, helped by a staunch back line of Riddall, Luke Beiser, Braydon Goodman and Riley McKee.
Reemtsma said the team had written their goal out on a whiteboard at the beginning of the season, targeting the state crown that had eluded them in three previous seasons.
Friday night and Saturday morning, Reemtsma said the team relaxed before the battle by playing the popular FIFA video game series, keeping the players’ minds competitive without dwelling on the task at hand.
“Sometimes what makes other teams nervous, keeps these guys having fun,” he said, adding that he went undefeated during the round of online contests.
With those words scrawled on the board now a reality, the Kards can finally replace it with the one trophy they wanted in the school showcase.
The celebrated senior class left the entire Kenai soccer program with memories, and now a championship trophy. Kevin Ramos, Goodman, McKee, Tuttle, Beiser and Riddall combined to form the senior class.
After Riddall’s early goal, freshman Leif Lofquist added to the tally in the 29th minute, getting a rebound off the goalie that started with a magnificent run down the right side by Tuttle.
Two yellow cards punctuated the middle stages of the game, one to Titus Riddall in the 34th minute of the first half and one to Juneau’s Kaiden Wilshusen in the 51st minute.
Reemtsma said he was pleased with the amount of 50-50 balls that the Kards were coming down with in the midfield, which led to dominant possession.
“We created a lot more scoring chances by winning everything in the air,” he said. “Anything that was in the air, we were winning, and that just comes down to heart and determination.”
Finally, Tuttle put the game away in the 67th minute with his breakaway shot.
Homer 3, North Pole 0
The Mariners took a 3-0 lead in the first half Saturday en route to a pleasant, third-place finish to their season. Under the old format, the Homer boys had finished tied for third at state in 2014 and fourth in 2012.
“I’m really happy,” Homer coach Warren Waldorf said. “If you look at where the kids were four years ago to where they are now playing as a group, I told them when they got on the bus in Eagle River, ‘I’m honored to have served as your coach.’
“It may very well be a long time before they get to enjoy playing so well as a team and with another group of people. It’s special when a team gets in the flow and starts creating things that are interesting to watch.”
Just over six minutes into the game, Charlie Menke started the scoring off an assist from Austin Shafford. Daniel Reutov the scored in the 25th and 35th minutes before Waldorf emptied his bench for the second half. Tucker Weston preserved the clean sheet in net.
Even without the title, Waldorf is happy with the season.
“I’ve won a lot of championships growing up, and I’m not sure the championships made the difference as much as all the ups and downs and working through periods of adversity,” he said after finishing 11-5-1. “Situations where you win a few and lose a few are a lot like life and a good learning opportunity.”
The game sent the vaunted senior class of Jordan Beachy, Oliver Beck, Timothy Blakely, Simon Dye, Charles Rohr and Menke out on a high note.