The 2016 Kenai Central girls soccer team can claim something that no other squad in school history can.
The Kards will be making a third straight appearance at the state tournament, a first in Kenai girls history, after a 3-0 victory over Colony in Friday’s Northern Lights Conference tournament semifinal on home turf at Ed Hollier Field.
Freshman speedster Hayley Maw netted a pair of goals to open up the gap in the second half and senior Alli Steinbeck had an easy day en route to the shutout in goal for Kenai. Junior midfielder Samantha Morse scored Kenai’s opening goal.
“It’s a good game when I don’t touch the ball,” Steinbeck said. “You have to give to the rest of the players on the field.”
Kenai sweeper Kylie Morse, a senior (with no relation to Samantha Morse) who is committed to playing soccer next year at Edmonds Community College outside of Seattle, said the Knights gave the Kards a steeper challenge than Thursday’s 4-0 win over Palmer.
“We had some good runs and chips, but we just had to play our game and keep them out,” Morse said.
With the speed that Maw showcased on the outside, Colony was plagued all game long with containing the Kenai attack.
“She’s unstoppable,” said senior midfielder Cori Holmes. “We’re very happy to have her. We wouldn’t be the same without her.”
Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said he was pleased to see his squad earn their spot at state, even with bumps and bruises beginning to take their toll.
“They showed good heart today, they’re all tired,” Verkuilen said. “These tournaments are always a show of heart, everyone gets hurt and has pulled muscles and injuries, and we showed that with our three-peat.”
After Kenai and Colony played to a scoreless draw early in the season, the Kards were out to prove something. Kenai put 12 shots on Colony’s goal while holding the Knights to just one lone attempt.
Morse opened the scoring in the 20th minute of the first half with a sprint downfield that put her in perfect position to set the ball into the net. Kenai held the 1-0 lead to the halftime break.
Maw scored her first goal 14 minutes into the second half with a fortuitous bounce near midfield that allowed her to set up a run up the middle and score for a 2-0 lead. Maw struck again just three minutes later on a corner kick from Mikaela Pitsch.
Wasilla girls 3, Soldotna 1
The Stars let an early lead fall to the wayside Friday in an NLC tournament semifinal at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, giving up a loss that placed them in Saturday’s third-place game.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Wasilla coach Patrick O’Neill, who will take the Warriors to the state tournament for the first time in his five-year run as coach. “We stuck to the game plan today, which was to control the midfield.”
Wasilla got goals from Alia Donley in the 38th minute, Alexis Friesen in the 52nd minute and Jodie Richey in the 69th minute.
The Stars took an early lead with a shot from Marlayna Saavedra just 10 minutes in off a corner kick from Abi Tuttle.
SoHi coach Jimmy Love expressed his concern to the team, and said that the execution was not as high as he would have liked.
“We gave up,” Love said. “We came out and played hard in the first 10 minutes, but when you don’t have possession, you can’t control the game.”
After seeing its lead slip away in the second half, Soldotna simply had trouble finding scoring opportunities in the final 20 minutes.
Following Saavedra’s goal, the Stars had increasing difficulty containing Wasilla’s attack, and the Warriors finally broke through with a goal just two minutes before the halftime whistle, leading to a 1-all tie.
Soldotna goalie Maddie Kindred saved several prime scoring chances for Wasilla, including a shot she corralled to her belly eight minutes into the second half which preserved the tie.
A free kick by Friesen proved to be the difference just four minutes later. Friesen sent the ball on a superb arc on a free kick that soared above the SoHi line and past the mitts of Kindred, putting Wasilla into the lead 2-1.
Richey had a quick shot glance off the right goal post in the 62nd minute, but managed to convert another attempt seven minutes later, beating out Kindred with a run to the goal and tapping in the insurance netter.
Colony boys 4, Soldotna 3, OT
The Colony boys soccer team got sweet revenge Friday afternoon at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, punching their ticket to the state tournament with a thrilling victory over Soldotna in the tournament semifinals.
Colony senior Ben Sande scored the game-winner before the first 60 seconds were up in the first 10-minute overtime period, and the Knights held on for the next 19 minutes before officially claiming their state spot.
“It feels good to punch that ticket and get to state,” Sande said. “I was able to find space and get my left foot on the ball, and I took the shot.”
The win also avenged a 5-2 defeat to SoHi earlier in the season, a game that Sande missed to injury.
“After that game, we wanted to play SoHi,” said an exuberant Jeremy Johnson, the Colony coach. “We saw we were playing SoHi (after Thursday’s win over Homer), and we thought, ‘Good, that’s good.’”
The Stars didn’t go quietly, however. SoHi rallied from a two-goal deficit in the first half to force overtime, a comeback that was capped with a stellar header by junior midfielder Timmy Smithwick on a corner kick from Dylan Kuntz with 12 minutes to go in regulation.
Sandwiching Smithwick’s tying goal, the Stars were given two other penalty kick opportunities, but missed both. Hammond’s penalty kick in the final minute of the first half rang off the crossbar, and Ethan Bott’s penalty shot in the 74th minute — with the game tied — was stopped dead by Colony goalie Chance Fannon.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen that many penalty kicks taken by one team and only one went in,” Johnson said.
An eventful first half began with SoHi taking an early lead with a penalty kick by Andrew Hammond nine minutes in.
However, Colony striker Alex Valdez responded in a ferocious manner, netting a hat trick in a seven-minute span to put the Knights up 3-1 by the 18th minute.
Soldotna coach Darryl Byerley said the quick trio of goals by Valdez left his squad a bit rattled, but with much of the game still to play, the Stars had the opportunity to refocus their efforts.
“We just had to settle down a bit after that,” Byerley said. “We needed the time to settle, and we had it.”
SoHi junior Ben Godfrey slotted in a goal at the half-hour mark to close the gap to 3-2, and it stayed that way to halftime after Hammond’s PK miss.
Following Smithwick’s game-tying header and Bott’s blocked PK, both sides were unable to score in the final couple of frenzied minutes.
It only took 56 seconds for Sande to find Colony’s first shot attempt in the first overtime period. Sande took the ball to the left corner of the goal box, shook off his defender and netted the winner by goalkeeper Blake Jones. The Stars had two solid chances to equalize in the final minutes, but Fannon stood tall.
In the end, Johnson said the region tournament presented his squad with a three-step process.
“The first day was just avoid going home, and (the second) was to qualify for state,” he said. “The third obviously is to win the region title.”
With a state spot still there for the taking, Byerley expects intensity from his team.
“Am I happy we came out on the short end? No, of course not,” Byerley said. “But it came down to who wanted it more.”
Kenai boys 7, Kodiak 2
The Kardinals clinched their second straight state tournament appearance with a convincing semifinal win on their home turf Friday afternoon under rainy skies. The win advances Kenai to Saturday’s NLC championship contest against Colony — a rematch from last year’s 4-1 loss.
“It’s very important we win that,” said senior sweeper Max Dye. “I think it’s a huge confidence booster to some of our guys that don’t think we’re the best in the region, but should know we’re the best.”
Colony defeated Kenai 1-0 in the regular season.
Kenai is looking for its first region soccer championship since 2008, which still stands as the school’s only boys soccer title.
“It would be nice to bring a championship back to Kenai, especially in soccer,” said sophomore forward Zack Tuttle.
Tuttle and Dye both notched hat tricks to lead Kenai to the win. Tuttle completed his hattie in the first half, starting with a 20th-minute goal on a slick turnaround shot. Tuttle scored again in the 27th minute and finished in the 36th minute on an impressive redirect header, which pushed Kenai’s lead to 4-1.
“Our defense is always solid, they always come to play,” Tuttle said.
Dye is a key starter that anchors the Kenai defensive line, and began his scoring with a penalty kick in the 12th minute. Dye moved out from his center back position to score again in the final minute of the first half, using a run up the left wing that ended with a strike past Kodiak goalie Matt Schauff.
Dye’s third goal was the most impressive, as he showcased his power in the 63rd minute with a midfield kick from about 55 yards out from the goal and delivered it straight into the netting.
“Max has those sometimes,” said Kenai head coach Joel Reemtsma. “He has a cannon for a leg, and that was a shot.”
Reemtsma said he was pleased to see his team finish the game strong.
“We got off to a slow start, I thought the first 10 minutes were a little shaky, but then we got our footing and came back at them,” Reemtsma said.
After playing Kodiak to a scoreless draw in the regular season, Kenai’s offensive explosion Friday came with a small level of surprise.
“We tied them in the regular season, and it stung a little bit,” Reemtsma said. “It was important for our development, it made us realize if we don’t bring our full game, we’re not going to get where we want.”
Kodiak freshman Spencer Hammond scored Kodiak’s first goal in the 34th minute with a shot to the upper right corner, which closed the gap to 3-1, but Tuttle answered for Kenai with his third goal just two minutes later. The Kards led 5-1 at halftime.
Sophomore Karl Danielson continued the scoring for Kenai in the 51st minute, then Dye finished his day with his blast 12 minutes later to boost the lead to 7-1. Kodiak senior captain Jose Cortez added a goal for the Bears in the 71st minute.