The Kenai Central soccer teams traveled to Soldotna and came away with a sweep Monday in Peninsula Conference action between the rivals.
The Kardinals girls received two goals from senior captain Olivia Brewer in notching a 2-1 victory and moving to 5-3-3 overall and 4-0-2 in the league, while the Stars fell to 8-5-2 and 2-1-2. In the boys game, Leif Lofquist scored twice in a 3-0 victory that sent the Kards to 7-3-2 and 5-0-1 marks, while SoHi dropped to 9-6-0 and 3-2-0.
Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen said the win was emotional because Brewer wanted it so badly.
“It was the last time playing SoHi on our fields, and she wanted to walk off with a win,” said Verkuilen, whose team had tied SoHi at 1 on April 22. “It’s a healthy competition with them. We love all the players on both teams, but we do love to beat them.”
In the tie earlier this season, the theme was Kenai going more aggressively to the ball. That continued Monday.
“I was not happy with how they were going to the ball,” Soldotna girls coach Jimmy Love said. “They wanted it more than we did and that’s why they won the game.”
Verkuilen said giving a talented team like SoHi time and space when attacking is simply not an option.
“Our team goal was to be first going to the ball and, as a whole, I think we probably did that,” Verkuilen said.
With both teams playing stout defense, there were not a lot of golden scoring chances. Brewer made the most of a shot from about 35 yards out with three minutes left in the half, drilling it into the upper reaches of the net.
In the second half, Verkuilen said his squad worked on cutting down the gap between the forwards and the midfield. That resulted in more pressure and 14 minutes into the half Alyssa Bucho won a penalty kick by getting fouled in the box. Brewer calmly tucked it away for a 2-0 lead.
With about 18 minutes left, Soldotna badly needed a spark and got it when Kenai handled the ball in the penalty box, leading to a goal by Meijan Leaf.
With the momentum, Soldotna started getting to the ball better, but could not crack the Kenai defense. Love said the Stars should have played like that the entire game.
“Too little, too late would be my response to that,” he said.
The Stars were without freshman scoring sensation Rhys Cannava, who received a red card Saturday against Wasilla, but Love said players should have been able to step up and fill Cannava’s role.
Verkuilen praised the effort of Brewer, and also said Karley Harden worked hard up front. Alissa Maw, Jenna Streiff and Damaris Severson were a wall in back, while Taylor Pierce continues to show more patience and touch in the midfield.
Kenai boys 3, Soldotna 0
The Kardinals, who defeated the Stars 4-2 on April 22, notched a sweep in the regular season series.
Lofquist, a sophomore, gave the Soldotna defense fits, proving time and again he’s one of those players who can put his head down and work through three or four defenders.
“Leif — he’s a lethal, lethal guy,” Soldotna head coach David Holmes said. “If he’s able to turn and face you, it’s almost like it’s over.”
Holmes said the plan was to get the ball from Lofquist while he still had his back to the goal, but that plan broke down just three minutes into the game when defender Travis Verkuilen stole the ball and found Damien Redder in the midfield. Redder quickly fed Lofquist with a perfectly weighted through ball, and the dynamic forward did the rest.
“Leif got great tutelage from probably the greatest Kenai striker of all time in Zack Tuttle,” Kenai head coach Shane Lopez said. “By the end of the season, Zack was always feeding Leaf for goals. It was almost like the passing of the torch.”
Lopez also was quick to point out that Lofquist’s teammates make the forward dangerous, particularly playmakers like Redder and Tomas Levy-Canedo.
“I’m so proud of the guys,” Lopez said. “They worked so hard for each other and took care of each other on the pitch.”
With just four minutes left in the half, Redder stormed through the midfield and pushed the ball to Levy-Canedo, who immediately found Nate Beiser with a step on his defender in the box. Beiser turned and finished.
SoHi did have its opportunities to get back in the game. In the seventh minute of the second half, SoHi’s Kaleb Swank got on a cross right in front of goal, but he was contested and his sliding kick hit the crossbar and bounced out.
Kenai jumped right into a counterattack and Lofquist was stymied by an excellent save by Hunter Woodward to keep the Stars from a devastating sequence.
“Woody’s a great goalie,” Holmes said. “He’s been very important for us all season.”
After breaking through against four defenders with eight minutes to play and again being stopped by Woodward, Lofquist broke through to seal the game with two minutes to play. Levy-Canedo sent him a simple ball up the left sideline, and Lofquist broke down the defense himself from there.
Goalie Braedon Pitsch and the Kenai defense were able to complete the shutout against SoHi’s dangerous trio of Swank, Alex Montague and Josh Heiber.
“We’ve got a phenomenal group back there,” Lopez said. “We graduated all six in back, but the news guys have stepped up and come together.”