There were only two goals scored in the girls and boys varsity soccer games between the Kenai Central and Soldotna on Saturday, and Kardinals freshman Zack Tuttle had both of them.
Tuttle struck in the 13th and 73rd minutes to lead the Kards to a 2-0 victory against the rival Stars at sunny Ed Hollier Field. The victory moved Kenai to 7-4-2 overall and 4-0-1 in the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division, clinching the top seed out of the division in this weekend’s conference tournament. The Stars fell to 11-4 and 4-1 and will be the No. 2 seed.
Earlier, the girls game had finished with a scoreless tie. The Soldotna girls finished the regular season at 13-0-1 and 4-0-1 in the Southern Division, while Kenai finishes at 10-1-2 and 4-0-1 in division play.
Neither SoHi coach Jimmy Love nor Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen were sure who wins the tiebreaker for the Southern Division’s top seed in the NLC tourney, but the No. 1 seed is likely to fall to SoHi. The Stars beat Kenai head-to-head 5-0 earlier in the season. SoHi also swept common opponent Wasilla, while the Kards tied the Warriors.
The Kenai boys came into Saturday’s game looking to avenge a last-minute, 2-1 loss to SoHi early in the season, and seeking the victory that would get them the No. 1 seed.
Tuttle’s first goal came when Nathaniel Saavedra played a ball deep in the box. There, Tuttle and a SoHi defender tangled for the ball, with the SoHi defender falling down and Tuttle scoring. It was one of those plays where everybody associated with SoHi will claim a foul, while everybody associated with Kenai will claim a clean play.
The second goal came when fellow freshman Kevin Ramos crossed to Tuttle, and he touched it to the far post.
“It’s always exciting to beat SoHi,” Tuttle said. “We wanted to get that No. 1 seed.”
Soldotna tried to play a possession game, while Kenai continually tried to play the long balls that set up both Tuttle goals.
“They play a high defensive line and we felt like they had a weakness to long balls,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said. “We’re confident playing the possession game, but like I told the guys, we have to exploit their weakness.”
SoHi coach Darryl Byerley has emphasized possession all season, and thought his side saw more of the ball this game.
“The boys worked hard,” Byerley said. “I thought they did quite well.”
The Stars earned some golden chances. In the 31st minute, Ty Fenton broke through and fired a shot that called for a diving save from Kenai keeper Wren Norwood.
In the 61st minute, Fenton had pushed the ball past Kenai’s final defender when Max Dye brought him down and was issued a yellow card. Fenton did not return and Byerley did not know about his status for the conference tournament.
Finally, in stoppage time, Andreas Asimakopoulos had a shot from the top of the box which Norwood gloved out of the top corner with his right hand to preserve the shutout.
“Wren flew today,” Reemtsma said. “Playing SoHi gives you wings.”
Reemtsma said Kenai features Norwood, Dye, midfielder Austin McKee and Tuttle up the middle, and Saturday showed how solid that combination is. Except for the misstep against Fenton, Dye was steady in the back all day.
“To have that kind of speed and athleticism combined with his skill is a coach’s dream,” Reemtsma said.
The scary thing for the conference is Dye is a sophomore and Tuttle is a freshman.
“He’s been doing it all year,” Reemtsma said of Tuttle. “We lost TJ Wagoner last year and he’s a major offensive weapon. Zack stepped in right where TJ left off.”
Soldotna girls 0, Kenai Central 0
With the soccer postseason here, defense becomes more vital. Soldotna, third in the state last season, and Kenai, fifth in state, both displayed they have the defense for another postseason run.
“Both teams showed how strong they are on defense, but both teams knew that about themselves,” Love said. “I wasn’t surprised by our defensive play, and I’m sure Dan wasn’t surprised by his defensive play.”
The closest either team came to scoring was when Alex Ashe hit the crossbar about seven minutes into the second half, but even that was a shot from well outside the box.
Miranda Wolfe broke through for a couple solid shots for Soldotna in the last 15 minutes of the game, and Abi Tuttle had a solid strike from the corner of the penalty box with about a minute to play.
But Kenai goalie Alli Steinbeck handled all the inquiries with the littlest of drama.
“They were just good saves,” Verkuilen said. “There was nothing where she was flying through the air or anything.”
For that, a great deal of credit goes to Kenai sweeper Kylie Morse, who was injured for the 5-0 loss to SoHi earlier in the year.
Morse is the rare player that has the speed, physical play and soccer smarts to match up with the attacking force that is Wolfe. Morse’s booming clears also give the Kards time to regroup.
Love was not happy with the way his squad tried to attack the Kards.
“We didn’t play our game,” he said. “We played their game. We tried to play over the top and not to feet, we didn’t communicate and we didn’t get to 50-50 balls.”
But SoHi still got the tie due to the defense led by seniors Ashe and Taryn McCubbins. Like Steinbeck, SoHi goalie Maddie Kindred did not have to turn in any acrobatics for the clean sheet.
As SoHi rolled to dominant win after dominant win this season, Love would constantly mention after the game that his team was not putting together a full 80 minutes of quality soccer.
“It’s good for the girls to play in a game like that,” Love said. “They saw what happens if you don’t play the full 80 minutes.”
Kenai also learned a lesson in the game. Although Verkuilen specifically mentioned the midfield play of Perkins and the attacking of Cori Holmes, he said the tie was a team effort. That team effort proved to the Kards they can stick with the Stars.
“Everyone on the team, from back to front, played a good game,” Verkuilen said. “That’s what it takes against a team like Soldotna.
“It’s nice for these girls to see what happens when they come together like that.”
Kenai Central girls 6, Seward 0
The host Kardinals notched an NLC Southern Division victory against the Seahawks on Friday.
Heidi Perkins got the lone goal of the first half before Kenai opened things up in the second half.
Hannah Drury scored for Kenai in the 48th minute, then Jamie Bagley scored in the 60th minute.
Samantha Morse then scored in the 70th and 74th minutes, the second one assisted by Emily Halstead. Mikaela Pitsch finished the scoring with a penalty kick in the 77th minute.
Soldotna girls 4, Grace Christian 0
Miranda Wolfe, Whitney Wortham, Reagan Schoessler and Skylar Shaw scored to lead the Stars to a NLC victory Friday in Anchorage.
Maddie Kindred had the shutout in net, while Alyssa Wolfe had two assists and Miranda Wolfe and Skylar Shaw added assists.
Grace Christian boys 2, Soldotna 1
The host Grizzlies notched an NLC victory Friday.
Grace went up 2-0 before Ty Fenton, on an assist from Charalambos Asimakopoulos, scored a goal in the last 10 minutes for Soldotna.
Kenai Central boys 4, Seward 0
The host Kardinals notched an NLC Southern Division victory Friday. Austin McKee had a pair of goals for the Kards, while Zack Tuttle and Chris Hamilton also found the net. Wren Norwood had the shutout.
“I liked what Seward had and where they are headed,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said. “They were pretty stalwart until the end. It’s good to have a competitive team like that in the region.”