Gridlocked at zero and neither team giving an inch, something had to decide who gets to play in the 2016 boys state soccer championship.
Ultimately, the Kenai Central boys pulled off a feat no other Kenai Peninsula soccer team had accomplished in 17 years of trying Friday evening at Service High School, toppling host Service in a stunning penalty kick finish to claim a spot in Saturday’s state championship final.
“It’s just an incredible feeling of elation,” said Joel Reemtsma, head coach of the operation. “I’m happy for these guys and the program.”
Since the start of the Alaska Schools Activities Association sanctioning of a statewide soccer tournament in 2000, the highest a peninsula team — boys or girls — had finished was third, and not one had made a state final.
The Kenai boys, a talented group of players bursting with youth, changed that record.
“We’ve got one goal left, and that’s win it all,” said Reemtsma.
The Kards frustrated Service with stout defensive line play, then made it count in the madly intense penalty kicks, which the Kards won 4-3.
Kenai junior goalkeeper Tristan Landry played a starring role, making two stellar blocks on the goal line, then converting a shot himself.
“I had a dream, and the dream came true,” Landry said. “I had to stay focused and keep my composure to take that shot.”
To prepare for the penalty kicks, Landry took a moment to relax and focus his mind, and with father Dave Landry — former professional player and former head coach of the team — giving him advice, the junior stopper had the intangible advantage.
“You’ve just got to find your zen, and once you’re there, no one can break it,” he said. “He told me to play my game, do whatever felt right, and the result would be for the best.”
Prior to Landry’s penalty kick, junior Max Dye and freshman Damien Redder had scored, and senior co-captain Ean Atchley finished the game with a low shot to the left corner of the netting.
“We’re going to the ‘ship, yeah!” was the cry at midfield as the entire team joined in a sea of red jerseys, and in the middle of that frenzy was Atchley.
Atchley said he knew before he took the shot which side of the net he would aim for, and the left side proved to be the winning ticket against Service goalkeeper Caleb VanBlankenstein.
“I was a little nervous, but I just try not to think too hard about it,” Atchley said.
The win was particularly sweet for Atchley, who has been a part of the Kenai soccer program for all four years of his prep career.
Coach Reemtsma said after seeing his squad record the first state tournament victory for the Kenai boys program in 2015, the expectations rose and the Kards met them, and that included a few higher goals.
“We wrote above all goals on our board, be good men,” Reemtsma said. “We try to show focus, discipline, honor, class and brotherhood.”
In the penalty kick situation, Service deployed a tough lineup of shot takers, some of the Cougars top strikers, and while Gunner Rogers, Fischer Rogers and Christoph Schiller all scored, both Brady Graff and Quinn Harris had their kicks stopped cold by a diving Landry at the line.
Dye started Kenai’s kicks with a goal, but sophomore Zack Tuttle had his initial shot blocked by VanBlankenstein. Because the goalie moved off his marks just before the kick, Tuttle received a second opportunity, but that too was blocked.
Redder’s kick knotted it up at 2, but Landry got all mitt on the ball sent from Harris, and it ultimately made the difference when Landry and Atchley’s shots nullified the made goal by Schiller.
Prior to that, Kenai and Service battled through a barnburner of a game, going scoreless through 80 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime and another 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime. Service unofficially outshot Kenai 12-4 through all that, and both teams had their opportunities to win it in the extra sessions.
Reemtsma, Landry and Atchley all believe the Kardinals are a different team than the one that faced South on April 16.
“I feel like we’re a lot stronger now,” Landry said.
Pointing out the South was held scoreless in the run of play against Kenai in the first meeting this year — one goal came on a penalty and the other on a corner kick — Reemtsma endorsed his squad’s defense in getting the job done.
“Our defense is strong enough, we can play with the ball in our half and not give up goals,” Reemtsma said. “We don’t give up cheap goals.”
Juneau girls 3, Kenai 1
Earlier Friday, the Kenai girls were not as fortunate to make it to Saturday, dropping a consolation contest to the Crimson Bears at Eagle River High School.
Rylee Landen scored twice to lift Juneau to the win, hitting the net on Juneau’s first shot on goal in the third minute off a corner kick, then putting the Crimson Bears ahead again in the 38th minute, slotting in a shot on a tough angle from the right corner.
“They had their chances, I think we could’ve had three or four goals,” said Kenai head coach Dan Verkuilen. “But this is a great bunch of girls, it’s a pleasure working with them.
“They’ve been steady, no drama and they cheer each other on.”
One of Kenai’s brightest future stars, freshman Hayley Maw, provided the most scoring opportunities for the Kards throughout the game with brilliant speed, and finally put one in 13 minutes into the contest. Maw received a through ball from Lara Creighton and took it up the right wing to deliver a well-played shot from 20 yards out to tie the game at one apiece.
Juneau’s Maddie McKeown added the insurance goal in the 60th minute, getting her face on a corner kick and coming through for the goal and a 3-1 lead, bloody nose and all.
Juneau boys 4, Soldotna 2
The Stars fell Friday afternoon at Eagle River High School to the Crimson Bears, putting an end to their season.
Juneau scored quickly in a fierce start, opening up a 4-0 lead by the 22nd minute, but SoHi held the Bears scoreless the rest of the way.
Soldotna coach Darryl Byerley said the two-and-out showing at state reflected the overall competition level at the season-ending tournament.
“There’s no easy teams here,” Byerley said. “It’s unfortunate they got a couple quick goals and we were down that early.”
Byerley added that Thursday’s loss to West, which put SoHi out of the running for the state title, did not damper the Stars spirits much.
“It’s still a game to the kids,” he said. “These boys have never been to state, so we can’t be unhappy about that.”
Juneau opened the scoring four minutes in with a goal from JJ Moser, then got two straight goals from Oswaldo Magallanes in the sixth and 15th minutes to make it 3-0. Kanon Goetz completed the scoring for Juneau at the 22nd minute.
Johnny Smithwick responded with a goal for SoHi in the final minute of the first half, then Andrew Hammond added one of his own in the 54th minute with a long free kick.