After waiting two years due to the coronavirus pandemic and a few weeks due to a slow Alaska thaw, high school soccer returned to the Kenai Peninsula on Thursday with Kenai Central hosting Nikiski.
“Just to be out playing again is incredible and everyone is feeling that,” Kenai Central boys head coach Shane Lopez said. “It’s been a rough year for everyone, and spring sports didn’t get a season last year.
“It’s been 690 days since our last game. I was curious. I checked.”
The 2020 soccer season was canceled due to the pandemic. This soccer season was supposed to start as far back as April 2 and 3 with a jamboree, but even Thursday’s games had been moved back from Tuesday due to a thick rim of snow slow to retreat from the field and track.
“They were so glad and so happy to be back playing,” Nikiski girls head coach Angie Coelho said of her squad. “They were super stoked, especially after all the games that were canceled at the beginning of the season.”
The Kenai girls topped Nikiski 6-0, while the boys game went 5-0 to the Kardinals. Nikiski boys coach Harrison Deveer took the loss in stride.
“Just to go out and see the smiles of the kids as they were running,” Deveer said. “Even though we lost 5-0, the kids were having a blast out there running around. They were excited to be out there. That, alone, was good enough for me.”
The signs of rust were definitely there.
“We were playing for the first time spread out on a field,” Kenai girls head coach Dan Verkuilen said. “We’ve been on turf for the last week.
“Especially in the first half, I thought we looked pretty good. In the second half, we got tired.”
Verkuilen said his midfield did a good job settling the ball and moving it up to the forwards. The coach said the forwards started figuring things out as the game went on, and the defenders were in good position for the limited opportunities they had.
Kylee Verkuilen had a few goals for the Kardinals, while coach Verkuilen also said Bethany Morris was solid on the outside of the field. Coach Verkuilen said the his squad is young — with three seniors and three or four juniors, and the rest freshmen and sophomores.
Verkuilen started the scoring in the first half with a strike from 30 yards out. Before the end of the first half, the Kards would lead 3-0 with Kori Moore scoring off a cross from Morris and Julia Hansen also finding the back of the net.
In the second half, Morris scored off a Verkuilen corner kick, Verkuilen knocked a corner kick off the Nikiski defense and into the goal, and Chloe Goldsby collected the ball in the penalty box and scored.
Nikiski does not have a turf field, so Coelho, a first-year coach, said her team had not even been on a field before Thursday. With some players participating in both the junior varsity and varsity games, Coelho said fatigue was a factor.
“That field is a lot different than a gym,” Coelho said.
Even so, Coelho was happy with the way her team played, especially on JV. She said many on the JV team had no high school game experience, yet lost 3-2.
On varsity, Coelho said Brooke Able and Celina Martinez had solid games on defense, while Avery White did well switching between offense and defense.
In the boys game, Leif Lofquist had a pair of goals for Kenai, while James Baisden, Sam Baisden and River Tomrdle added tallies. Bridger Beck and Wade James combined on the shutout in net. Lopez said Joe Hamilton and Koda Poulin also were solid at center back.
Lopez said it was a great team performance, with forwards scoring some nice goals and defenders doing a good job of containing Nikiski’s speed.
With wrestling added to an already loaded spring sports slate, Nikiski’s soccer team has just 12 players this season. The Bulldogs also only had a short field practice coming into the game.
“I’m looking forward to playing Kenai again,” Deveer said. “I was expecting worse. I’ll take 5-0.”
Deveer said his team didn’t back down from the tough Kardinals.
The coach said James Lamping had an amazing game, while Sam Smith was solid at midfield. Seth Payne played a good goalie despite never having played the position before Thursday. Levi Anderson, in his first year playing soccer, hustled at defense and midfield.
“I’m very impressed with how hard all the kids worked,” the coach said.