The Kenai Central boys soccer team played West to a 2-2 tie Saturday at Service High School to tie for third at the state soccer tournament.
The Kardinals (17-2-1 overall) now have finished fifth at state in 2015 and second in 2016 before taking third this season. The Kardinals were sent to the third-place game after losing 2-0 to West Valley in Friday’s semifinals.
“We still believe we could have taken that top spot, but we did show we belong in that top three,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said. “Yesterday, things didn’t go our way. We weren’t fully healthy and we didn’t get the bounces, so we weren’t able to play at the top of our game like today.”
Kenai started seniors Chase Gillies, Max Dye, Avery Hieber and Kalvin Daniels. The Kardinals also announced goalie Tristan Landry, who did not play due to sustaining a concussion Friday.
Reemtsma said third-place games can be hard after losing the day before.
“We sat in the locker room and gave them reasons why they should come out motivated after a disappointing loss,” Reemtsma said. “I’m proud of how the guys responded.”
Midway through the first half, Luke Beiser beat three or four players and put a shot on net. Damien Redder scored the rebound.
Reemtsma said West came out fired up in the second half. Midway through the second half, both teams went to 10 players when Gillies was dragged down from behind and a West player and Gillies were ejected after a confrontation.
While Reemstmsa said Kenai had more opportunities in the game, he said the last 20 minutes were wild, with both teams generating scoring chances.
With 15 minutes left, West tied the game when the Eagles played a through ball quickly on a free kick and beat goalie Tyrone McEnerney to the ball.
But minutes later, Dye connected on a long ball to Zack Tuttle, who beat a few defenders to score. Beiser then had a cross to Redder that the West keeper managed to somehow save, and West took advantage of the new life by knotting up the game on a free kick from 40 yards out.
The game ended with five minutes of stoppage time, which included a point-blank save by McEnerney.
Reemtsma gave a special nod to Rykker Riddall for shutting down the outside on defense and Kevin Ramos for getting through a tough game despite an injury.
West Valley 2, Kenai 0
Two teams with one loss between them met in a state semifinal Friday afternoon, forging a battle of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.
Ultimately, the irresistible force won out, as the West Valley boys were the ones walking off with a tense 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,” Reemtsma said. “We’re disappointed, but not disappointed in our effort.”
The Kardinals moved to the Saturday third-place game against West Anchorage.
One year after making it to the program’s first state final, where they lost 3-1 to South, the Kardinals boys could not find the same results on the same field.
Kenai battled an aggressive West Valley squad, 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 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 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 Gillies and star forward Tuttle in second-half collisions. Tuttle returned to the field after a brief stay on the bench. Reemtsma also said junior midfielder 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 half, 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 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.
Homer won the academic award.