A year after making it to the semifinal round of the Alaska state soccer tournament, the Kenai Central girls were looking to go a step further this year with a championship game berth.
However, in a repeat of last year, the Kardinals fell short again with a 2-0 loss to West Valley, Friday afternoon at Bartlett High School. Kenai will play Service for third-place honors 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Bartlett High.
West Valley struck early, getting a cross in the second minute of the game that found its way to forward Grace Marks, who slipped the ball past Kenai goalkeeper Alli Steinbeck.
“We had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of strikes,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “They had good control at times, we had people up at the end in hopes of getting one at the end. We were pushing hard.”
Wolfpack midfielder Rio Geiger notched the insurance goal for West Valley about eight minutes into the second half on a one-touch corner kick strike.
One day after playing an extra half hour and ultimately executing the winning block on a sudden-death penalty kick, Steinbeck stayed busy in goal all game trying to fend off a Wolfpack team that went 9-0 this season.
“I definitely knew we had to get up for today’s game because we played for an extra 30 minutes yesterday, and that was hard,” Steinbeck said. “They didn’t outplay us, they just hit a few lucky shots that controlled the game.”
Wearing long sleeves and pants, Steinbeck said the game, played in the middle of the hot afternoon, proved to be challenging as coaches jockeyed players around in a subbing battle while prodding them to hydrate and apply ice packs to their necks. After Thursday night’s dramatic penalty-kick victory over Juneau, Steinbeck needed every bit of mental focus and physical energy to keep her team on the right side of the scoreboard.
“You just have to be focused on the players, and not let the nerves get to you,” Steinbeck said.
Verkuilen echoed Steinbeck’s remarks and added that the biggest priority of his coaching staff was keeping the team uplifted and energetic.
“A lot of it’s just the mental part,” Verkuilen said. “They seemed to do pretty well with that, it’s just a matter of kids running out of juice.”
The Kards pressed hard for possession in the final minutes of the match, getting opportunities but never quite finding the right touches to score before the final whistle blew.
Soldotna girls 2, Dimond 1
The Soldotna girls soccer squad had their dreams crushed by the Service Cougars Thursday at the statewide soccer tournament, but the Stars returned Friday and showed why they ran away with an undefeated regular season record with an impressive consolation victory over the Lynx at Eagle River.
“I’m really glad with the way they performed,” said Soldotna coach Jimmy Love. “They could’ve called it quits, but they dug a little deeper today.”
SoHi will face Wasilla in the state fourth-place game 8 a.m. at Bartlett, a welcome relief for the seniors that wanted to play one last game.
“I think there was some disheartened feelings, but that was kind of the approach we had to take,” Love said. “We hoped to make it to Saturday. They all hunkered down and got it.”
With seconds remaining in the first half, Alyssa Wolfe opened the scoring on a corner kick that Dimond initially looked to have cleared, but was deflected off a Lynx defender and right to Wolfe, who easily put it in.
Wolfe’s younger sister, Miranda, notched the second goal midway through the second half, collecting a tap from Abi Tuttle, beating one defender in a footrace, then giving the ball two shots, one that bounced off the goalkeeper and a second that scored.
“Then it was kind of survival,” Love said.
At that point, the Lynx began to increasingly push up its players, which subsequently began to suffocate the Stars. The push eventually allowed Dimond to slip the ball past SoHi goalie Maddie Kindred late in the going.
Love said he is hoping to schedule a few regular season matchups in 2016 against Anchorage teams that would allow the Stars to gain earlier exposure to the usual championship-winning suspects. Love had a brief chat with Service coach Mark Cascolan after Thursday’s 2-0 loss about making that happen.