The Kenai Central girls soccer season quietly came to an end Friday afternoon at Eagle River High School, where the Kardinals lost a 2-0 state consolation semifinal to hardened conference rivals Colony.
For the eight seniors on the team, though, enough noise has been made in the past four years to satisfy their competitive hunger.
For Samantha Morse, Rebecca Miller, Mikaela Pitsch, Emily Halstead, Savannah Clark, Shanija Walters, Cassi Holmes and Lara Creighton, Friday’s game was the end of the line for them. But the rest of the team has the chance to return next spring to attempt a fifth straight state appearance.
This year’s state run was hardly in the senior’s minds in March.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t expect us to be where we are right now,” Creighton said.
“We lost eight of our starting line last year,” added Holmes. “Once I saw everybody, I though, ‘Oh wow’, that impressed me. I can’t wait to see this team two years from now.”
Holmes said she lessons learned from past senior classes helped her teach the same values to the current crop of juniors and underclassmen, which were talented enough to make an impact this year.
“I don’t think I had to instill any skill to their feet, it was just more of a maturity thing and sportsmanship,” Holmes said. “You grow to learn that. I was mouthy for a couple years.”
Kenai head coach Dan Verkuilen said the current crop of seniors were crucial in building up the program to what it has become.
“They’re a good class, a good group,” Verkuilen said. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
A 1-0 semifinal loss to Colony at the Northern Lights Conference tournament led to a thrilling 3-2 victory in penalty kicks over Soldotna in the tournament third-place game, which clinched Kenai’s fourth consecutive state appearance.
“We won’t lie, we weaseled our way to state this year,” Holmes said. “Our (third-place region) game against SoHi was balls to the wall. We weren’t ready for our season to be over.”
Playing Colony for the second time in a week Friday, the Kards faced a ferocious midfield battle, but the Knights capitalized better on mistakes.
Gabriel Wakaliuk scored both goals for Colony, getting help from Sahara Iverson in the 27th minute to put the Knights in the lead, then slipped the ball by freshman goalkeeper Kailey Hamilton on a tough angle from the left side of the box just eight minutes into the second half to double the lead.
Creighton said the midfield had trouble setting up the team’s forwards, players such as Sam Morse and Liz Hanson, with through balls that could challenge the Knights.
Ultimately, Kenai closed out the state tournament without scoring a single goal, something that Verkuilen said speaks volumes of the level of talent in the competition.