Two teams with one loss between them met in a state semifinal Friday afternoon, forging a battle of an irresistable force meeting an immovable object.
Ultimately, the irresistable force won out, as the West Valley boys were the ones walking off with a tense 2-0 victory over Kenai Central on a blustery day at Service High School, punching their ticket to Saturday’s state final against the defending champions South Anchorage. The Wolfpack is attempting to cap an undefeated 20-win season.
Meanwhile, Kenai will have to begin anew next year after seeing their attempt to compete for a state crown for a second straight year go by the wayside.
“We just had a bunch of things go wrong,” said a solemn Kenai head coach Joel Reemtsma. “We’re disappointed, but not disappointed in our effort.”
The Kardinals (17-2 overall) will chase third place for the tournament with a 1:15 p.m. meeting Saturday with West Anchorage.
One year after making it to the program’s first state final, where they lost 3-1 to South, the Kardinal boys could not find the same results on the same field.
Kenai battled an aggressive West Valley squad that hasn’t lost a game all year, as well as a cruel second-half headwind that only aided the Wolfpack in pressuring the Kards.
Additionally, Kenai lost several players to injury, including senior goalkeeper Tristan Landry for the second half. Landry received a knock to his head on a scoring play in the goal box just before the halftime break, and had to be helped off the field after a lengthy assessment by team officials. Sophomore Tyrone McEnerney took over for Landry in the second half.
Reemtsma said Landry suffered a concussion and would not be playing Saturday in what would have been his final high school start, while also giving McEnerney credit for recording a clean sheet in his time in goal.
“It’s a bummer, it’s kind of a nightmare scenario for Tristan,” Reemtsma said. “But Tyrone was phenomenal.”
Kenai also lost Chase Gillies and star forward Zack Tuttle in second-half collisions. Tuttle returned to the field after a brief stay on the bench. Reemtsma also said junior midfielder Kevin Ramos was still feeling the lingering effects of a previous injury.
West Valley head coach Howard Maxwell said he stressed to his team the importance of focusing on the task at hand, something that has lifted the Wolfpack all season.
“They’re taking it one game at a time,” Maxwell said. “We don’t talk about the next game, or we might as well go home.”
While the Wolfpack won out on most midfield battles, they never mounted many serious scoring attacks.
“They scored on their two most dangerous moments,” Reemtsma said. “They’re loaded, but so are we.”
West Valley finally cashed in on a fast start to the game with a fortuitous goal in the 19th minute by Jacob Luhrs, who poked in a loose ball in a scrum around the Kenai net.
Luhrs then set up teammate Shane Gillette with a well-timed through ball up the middle in the dying moments of the first half to put West Valley up 2-0 at the break. Gillette beat out Kenai’s back line to meet Landry in a head-to-head race to the ball, beating the Kenai stopper with a strike to the left corner of the net.
In the race to the ball, Landry took a foot to the head, causing him to collapse face first to the turf. McEnerney came in for the final couple of plays before the first-half whistle, then remained on the field for the entirety of the second half, putting together a few highlight-reel saves against West Valley.
Two yellow cards were charged in the second one, the first going to West Valley’s Ricky Stanton in the 58th minute and the second to Kenai freshman Nate Beiser in the 66th minute, both for aggressive plays.
Kenai also had a goal taken back for an offsides call in the first minute of stoppage time. Tuttle used a through ball from Tomas Levy-Canedo to tap in a rebound off his initial shot, but the celebration was short-lived.
The Kardinals are graduating five seniors from the team, including two valuable starters in defensive specialist Max Dye and Landry, but Reemtsma said he believes the team can still return to the state final in 2018.
“I feel like we’ll be solid next year, but this was an opportunity,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was a missed opportunity, just an opportunity we fell short in.”
Juneau boys 4, Homer 1
The Mariners saw their season end Friday in a state consolation semifinal loss at Eagle River High School.
After falling to unbeaten West Valley in Thursday’s state opener, Homer wrapped up its tournament with an 0-2 showing in a year of change for the team.
Homer head coach Warren Waldorf said he was proud of his team, the smallest when ranked by school size, for qualifying for the state tournament.
“We were talking about it today, and it’s easier to destroy than it is to create,” Waldorf said. “For a small school at the end of the road, we can play pretty intense and keep the scores relatively close.
“It’s a mountain of work to make up the difference to those schools.”
The Crimson Bears built up a 2-0 lead by halftime, then pushed it to 4-0 before Homer was able to get on the board.
Charles Rohr scored the Mariners’ lone goal on a penalty kick in the 62nd minute.
“Last week we said the worst case scenario would be if we lose that first game at regions and we’re done,” Waldorf said. “The best case is we play five games. We played five games.”
Waldorf said the team’s biggest challenges were keeping everyone healthy. Both Simon Dye and Dexter Lowe were out Friday to injury, and Rohr was limited by an injury suffered in Thursday’s loss to West Valley.
Homer’s lone senior is Kenzington Cortez, who Waldorf said will be headed off to Gonzaga (Washington) University in the fall.