Monday when Kenai Central’s Ed Hollier Field hosted a Peninsula Conference soccer battle between the Kardinals and Soldotna, two things were classic — the fierce coldness of the spring wind raking across the field and the fierce heat generated by the rivals on the field.
Both games came down to the wire.
The girls game ended in a 1-1 draw after Kenai’s Julia Hanson scored with seven minutes to play, answering a goal earlier in the second half by Rhys Cannava. The Stars are now 4-1-2 overall and 1-0-2 in the league, while the Kards are 2-1-2 and 1-0-2.
The boys game was wilder still, with a hat trick by senior captain Damien Redder ultimately proving to be the difference in the Kards’ 4-2 triumph. Redder scored early in the first and second halves for a 2-0 lead, but midway through the second half Josh Heiber’s two free kick goals had equalized.
Redder completed the hat trick on a penalty kick with six minutes to play, then Travis McKinley added another PK in stoppage time. Kenai moves to 3-2-1 and 2-0-1, while SoHi falls to 4-3-0 and 2-1-0.
The tie in the girls game continued a trend between the top three teams in the conference standings. Soldotna tied Homer, Kenai tied Homer, and now Kenai and SoHi have tied.
“We’re going to need a three-sided coin if this keeps up,” Kenai girls head coach Dan Verkuilen said.
Verkuilen said the key to the game was surviving the first half when the Stars had the wind. The first 40 minutes ended up 0-0. The other key for the coach was keeping the explosive Stars from gaining easy possession of the ball and turning to look upfield.
“We work on that a lot,” Verkuilen said. “They have too much talent to just let them get the ball, make a turn and gain a head of steam.”
Soldotna girls head coach Jimmy Love is the first to admit Kenai was successful in getting to the ball first.
“We were not going to the ball,” Love said. “We were second. At least 60 percent of the time, if not more, they beat us to the ball.”
Still, the Stars almost pulled out a victory. In the seventh minute of the second half, Ryann Cannava played a corner kick into the box. It trickled through a crowd to Rhys Cannava, who hammered it home.
A similar trickle would hurt the Stars in the 33rd minute, when SoHi missed a few chances to clear and Hanson made them pay by driving the ball into the back of the net from the middle of the box.
“When you miss clearances, goals happen,” Love said.
Both teams were not done with the drama. With three minutes left, Olivia Brewer spun and ripped a shot in the box but SoHi goalie Katie Delker made a sprawling save. With under two minutes to play, SoHi had a chance on a free kick and Kenai also put a solid shot just wide.
Verkuilen said a defense led by Alissa Maw, Damaris Severson and Anya Danielson was sharp in front of goalie Kailey Hamilton, who still had to make some sparkling saves. Brewer worked hard in the midfield, while Bethany Morris played well at the wing position.
Kenai boys 4, Soldotna boys 2
Redder did it all on his home field against his greatest rival.
Not only did he score three goals — the first two coming on assists from McKinley and Travis Verkuilen — but he played a crucial role in blunting Soldotna’s attack in the midfield.
“He was big defensively, as well,” Kenai head boys coach Shane Lopez said. “He marshaled the guys into the right position in the midfield.”
Redder also provided a calming presence when Soldotna stole the momentum on two free-kick strikes from Heiber, the second so precisely placed that it bounced off the post and in.
With just eight minutes to play, SoHi nearly took the lead when Trenton O’Reagan was just over the bar on a cross from Heiber.
But Lopez had pulled Redder off, then put him back on the field with instructions to settle the team down and get the ball moving again. With six minutes left, Leif Lofquist was brought down in the box and Redder actually converted two penalty kicks, the first not counting because the referee hadn’t blown his while.
The Kardinals iced the game when Tomas Levy-Canedo drew a penalty kick in the final seconds and McKinley converted.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Lopez said. “It’s always good to win this one.”