The Kenai Central boys soccer squad made history Thursday by claiming the program’s first state tournament victory, a 1-0 triumph over conference opponent Homer.
You would think the Kardinals would be content playing with house money. Not the case.
Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma had his team preparing for what he hoped would be a championship berth, but against a high-powered Dimond Lynx squad, the Kards fell in Friday’s semifinal matchup 3-0. Dimond went on to beat South 1-0 in Saturday’s championship.
The Kardinals then fell to Juneau-Douglas 3-2 in Saturday’s third-place match at Bartlett to finish the season 10-7-2.
“I’m pleased, but not satisfied,” Reemtsma said. “We had our eyes on that championship game, and we believed we could win, and I still believe it was doable.”
Colin O’Hare scored a pair of goals in the first half that made the difference for Dimond.
Wren Norwood, a senior co-captain of the team and state all-tournament honoree, was named player of the game for Kenai, and moments before was substituted off the pitch to a rousing applause from the Kenai faithful in the crowd, a crowd to which Reemtsma sent out a heartfelt thanks for their unwavering support.
“It’s extremely important, this is four years in the making,” Norwood said. “I came to this school thinking, my brother (Barry Norwood) was on the team the last time Kenai went to state, so making history yesterday, it was great.”
Norwood leads the Kards with consistent calls from the goal that keep his team on target and in correct positioning. His guidance was needed big time on Friday.
Dimond struck early, using quick, crisp passing to catch Norwood off guard and slip in a goal in the game’s second minute.
“It’s a good team, that was a great cross to the box,” Norwood said. “That’s really hard to defend, especially since they were making a great run up there. Most of these guys are full-year soccer players, so it’s tough to defend against them.”
O’Hare notched another goal in the 27th minute, using a series of tricky stutter-steps to fool the Kenai defense and send a blast down the middle and into the netting.
Holding a 2-0 lead at halftime, Dimond continued the onslaught on Kenai, getting numerous shots on goal that were being turned away by Norwood time and again. The Lynx peppered the Kenai goalie with shot after shot for over 15 minutes into the second half, but after all that pressure, it was a set play that finally scored. Robert Schock blasted a free kick from 35 yards out that made its way into the net for a third Dimond goal that effectively drained all drama out the match.
“He’s scored like that before in games, so we knew he could do it,” said Dimond coach Barat Killian. “Jack wanted the free kick, and we said, hey let Rob take it, and Jack’s pretty humble about it.”
Killian said he could not think of a better scenario to present to the team’s 14 outgoing seniors.
Juneau boys 3, Kenai 2
Kenai took fifth place with the loss, the best finish in program history.
“I think we showed we belong with the top teams in the state,” Reemtsma said. “It wasn’t a fluke, a one-off. It’s not that we were lucky to draw Homer.
“We were a hair’s breadth from drawing even with Juneau and earning the third-place spot.”
Max Dye staked the Kardinals to a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute. The Juneau goalie handled the ball just outside the box after some tough dribbling from Kevin Ramos, and Dye responded with a marvelous free kick.
“He bent it around the wall into the upper right corner,” Reemtsma said. “It was a top-notch free kick.”
Juneau’s Treyson Ramos would score a minute later to tie the game, then Juneau’s Antonio Hafferty found the back of the net in the 33rd minute.
Reemtsma said the Kards were not done celebrating when Juneau scored its first goal, then that goal took the wind out of their sails. The Crimson Bears went up 3-1 in the 61st minute on a goal by Ryan Hoover.
Marshall Vest scored six minutes later for the Kards to cut the lead to 3-2. Vest nodded in a header on a cross.
“The last 13 minutes was all Kenai,” Reemtsma said. “We had a lot of chances.”
The game ended with Kenai set to take a corner kick, which is pretty much unheard of in soccer.
Reemtsma said senior defender Jake Eubank was a warrior for the team, slipping in games between tryouts for the Kenai River Brown Bears, and playing Saturday despite a bloody nose.
Senior Wren Norwood was solid in net, while Nate Saavedra was player of the game, and Austin McKee was all over the midfield.
“We’re very encouraged with the way the young guys stepped up,” Reemtsma said. “Even some sophomores and juniors that didn’t see a lot of time did some improving.
“We feel we’re going to be back at the state tournament.”
Reemtsma said he was extremely fortunate to get support from the players, administrators, coaches in his first year coaching varsity.
Bartlett boys 2, Homer 1, OT
The Mariners lost out in the consolation side of the bracket Friday evening at Eagle River High School, ending their state run on the spot with a 7-8-3 overall record.
The Golden Bears took advantage of the sudden-death format in the third overtime period, the first of two golden-goal periods of five minutes in length. The two periods were preceded by two 10-minute overtime periods that always go the distance, whether or not a team scores.
Homer, which won the sportsmanship award at state, finishes seventh after taking fourth in 2012 and third in 2014.