The stars aligned for the outgoing seniors on the Kenai Central girls soccer team Friday afternoon as the Kardinals won a 7-1 Northern Lights Conference contest over Nikiski at Ed Hollier Field.
All seven goals came from senior players, led by a hat trick from Lara Creighton and two others from Samantha Morse.
“With the seniors playing, it was a special day,” said Kenai head coach Dan Verkuilen. “This is their last time on this turf, and you don’t notice it until the last moments that they’re playing.”
Savannah Clark, Emily Halstead, Cassi Holmes, Rebecca Miller, Samantha Morse, Mikaela Pitsch, Shanija Walters and Creighton are all seniors, and Verkuilen made sure to get all eight playing time. Kenai improved to 9-3 overall and 3-1 in the NLC.
The win was a welcome relief for the Kards, who dropped a 2-1 conference loss to Soldotna on Tuesday. Verkuilen said the disappointing showing earlier in the week gave his team a lot to think about in the three intervening days, and it spurred the Kards to execute much better Friday.
“We came out light against SoHi,” he said. “They knew it was important.”
Nikiski head coach Linda Zimmerman said despite the lopsided score, she was proud of her team’s play against a tough conference opponent in Kenai. Earlier in the season, Kenai defeated the Bulldogs 3-0, but Friday, Nikiski opened with 16 minutes of shutout play against the attack-minded Kardinals.
“We’ve improved by leaps and bounds,” Zimmerman said. “We’re playing like a well-oiled machine right now, and they don’t give up. We have the heart and tenacity of a bulldog.”
It wasn’t until the 17th minute that Morse found a through ball from Liz Hanson and tapped it home for a goal against Nikiski goalkeeper Brianna Vollertsen, who will be playing soccer next year at Lower Columbia College in Washington. Morse nearly scored again three minutes later but was stopped by Vollertsen, who had to make an early exit in the 35th minute after a hard collision with a Kenai player in the goal box. Freshman Emily Hightower replaced Vollertsen between the posts for the rest of the game.
Creighton put Kenai up 2-0 in the 37th minute with a strike deep into the right side of the goal box.
It took 10 minutes into the second half for Creighton to score her second of the night, a 30-yard bomb that was set up on a rebound off Hightower. Morse scored her second of the game two minutes later on a through ball similar to her earlier one.
Creighton complete her three-goal showing in the 57th minute on a tap-in with help from Brenna Eubank, making it 5-0 Kenai. Halstead and Holmes finished the scoring for the home team with goals in the 66th and 68th minutes.
Deidra Lamping notched Nikiski’s lone goal in the 74th minute, ruining Kenai goalie Kailey Hamilton’s clean sheet.
Kenai boys 8, Nikiski 0
Kalvin Daniels, Max Dye and goalkeeper Tristan Landry all got into the senior night spirit with goals that helped the Kenai boys to an overwhelming win Friday at Kenai.
Junior Luke Beiser and freshman Titus Riddall added two goals, and Riley McKee scored for the Kards, while Landry earned the shutout in net.
At 10-1 overall and 4-0 in the conference, Kenai continued to show signs that they are ready to challenge for a state title for a second year in a row.
“I’m happy we’re getting results, but we still have to better,” said Kenai head coach Joel Reemtsma. “We want to go deep at state.”
Avery Hieber, Chase Gillies, Landry, Dye and Daniels all were celebrated as the seniors on the team, and Reemtsma praised his elder players for their leadership on the team.
“It’s an honor to have our seniors get the opportunity to showcase their skill,” he said. “They have raw athleticism, all five are great athletes, and it’s an interesting mix of experience and newcomers.”
Playing with just nine players due to a shortage of bodies, Nikiski dropped to 0-5 overall, 0-1 in the conference, but head coach Harrison Deveer said his squad really picked up the intensity in the second half after a tough opening 40 minutes.
“I was really upset about the first half, we didn’t play defense at all, and I did a little yelling at halftime,” Deveer said. “We came out (in the second half) disciplined, and working on spreading the field and attacking the ball.”
Deveer gave credit to Eiter for leading the team as a goalie, and defender George Napoka, a diminutive sweeper who has the uncanny ability to contain attackers with speed and agility.
“We call him the pit bull,” quipped Deveer. “He’s fast, and he’s always able to recover.”
Kenai’s combination of seasoned soccer veterans and new-to-the-sport athletes on the team wasn’t apparent in the first half. Daniels, who is basically a crossover athlete from basketball and football, opened the scoring seven minutes in on a header, getting a cross from near the baseline from Beiser.
Beiser scored the next goal in the 24th minute, a strike that put Kenai up 2-0 and opened the floodgates. The Kards got goals in spurts, as McKee struck next for Kenai a minute after Beiser’s goal. Dye and Riddall were next in line to score, putting through goals in the 33rd and 34th minutes.
Landry got the rare opportunity to add his name to the scoring list in the final minute of the first half, leaving his goalkeeping duties and racing across the field for a penalty kick, which he converted on Nikiski’s Eiter. The PK put Kenai up 6-0 at the half.
Beiser scored his second goal on a header off a corner kick just three minutes into the second half, and Riddall got his second in the 72nd minute.
Wasilla girls 5, Kenai 0
The host Warriors notched a victory over the Kardinals on Saturday as Kenai fell to 9-4 overall.
Kenai boys 5, Wasilla 0
The visiting Kardinals moved to 11-1 by shutting down the Warriors.
Five different players scored for the Kardinals, who received a shutout from Tristan Landry.
“I’m really pleased with all of the guys,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said. “I feel like we are starting to hit our stride.”
The coach said it was nice to have Kevin Ramos back on the field. Ramos, working his way back from an injury, played for 20 minutes.
Karl Danielson struck first for Kenai, scoring from 30 yards out with his right foot.
Not to be outdone, Luke Beiser scored in the 30th minute on another long shot with his left foot.
With just two minutes left until halftime, the Kards went up 4-0 when Damien Redder found Zack Tuttle on the end line. Tuttle beat four defenders before finishing.