The Kenai Central offense was almost as cold as the weather Thursday night on the soccer pitch in the Kardinals home openers.
The girls lost to West Anchorage 2-0 to start their 2019 season at 0-1, and the boys dropped a 4-1 nonconference clash to the Eagles to fall to 0-2 overall.
The Kenai girls allowed two first-half goals to a Division I Eagles team that finished fifth at last year’s state tournament, and could not get much going on the offensive end against a stacked West defense, although head coach Dan Verkuilen liked the work in the first half.
“It was our first game so of course we haven’t had the chance to build the stamina for a whole game,” Verkuilen said. “We came out really strong and excited, all over the ball … but we were missing our passes by one or two rolls, just a little bit off on the foot-to-foot passes that would’ve turned into goals.”
The West boys punched through the Kardinals defense early with three first-half goals, and finished with a hat trick by right wing Jack Green.
Kenai eventually found a way through to ruin the shutout with a late goal by Koa Diorec, but by the time the boys game was wrapping up, flurries were spiraling through the air at Ed Hollier Field and teams were antsy to get indoors.
First-year Kenai boys head coach Shane Lopez attributed the slow start to a young team facing a West squad that finished tied for third in the state last year.
“Guys are working hard and it’s some of the little things you keep working on as the season goes along,” Lopez said. “That’s a solid Anchorage team and they’re the ones that are going to show you some of your flaws.”
Green flaunted speed and redirection as he challenged the notoriously tough Kenai defense. Green put the Eagles on the board 10 minutes in with a two-touch blast by Kardinals goalie Braedon Pitsch to the left corner of the net.
Green added his second goal 19 minutes into the contest on a furious charge at the net while battling with a Kenai defender to tap it in for a 2-0 lead.
Lopez commended the efforts of Pitsch in goal. The junior netminder produced a handful of dazzling saves that belied the four goals allowed, including two in the first five minutes of the second half.
“I thought he had a tremendous game, it’s good to have him back and bring some leadership back there,” he said.
The Eagles led 3-0 at halftime thanks to a last-second goal by Matthew Curtis, who beat out a Kenai defender and got past Pitsch out in front to notch the easy strike.
“They’ve been strong and consistent for the past couple of years,” Lopez said. “They move the ball really well, pass really well and they’re really physical.”
Green completed his three-goal day in the 63rd minute on a strong cross from his left position.
The Kards scored with two minutes left in regulation on a free kick by Travis Verkuilen. The kick sailed across the loaded goalie box and found Koa Diorec, who deposited it in net to ruin West goalie Reese Schrage’s perfect sheet.
In the girls game, coach Verkuilen praised Kenai’s opening half of the season.
“I thought it was 50-50 (ball) possession but we had the wind at our back,” he said.
Verkuilen said the team chose to play with the fierce wind at their backs in the first half to help establish a positive flow.
“We figured that wind at our back would hopefully keep us in the game,” he said. “Expectations being realistic, I guess I was surprised with what they had. Really pleased.”
Kailey Hamilton made eight saves on 12 shots for Kenai in goal.
West struck first in the 16th minute on a goal by Chloe Austerman, who broke through the Kenai defense thanks to a cross from a teammate for a tap-in.