Dimond’s Allison Shafer collides with Kenai Central goalkeeper Kailey Hamilton in a quarterfinal matchup Thursday at the state soccer tournament at Eagle River High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Dimond’s Allison Shafer collides with Kenai Central goalkeeper Kailey Hamilton in a quarterfinal matchup Thursday at the state soccer tournament at Eagle River High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai girls fall to defending champs in state soccer opener

A Wednesday night graduation coupled with a lunchtime kickoff for the opening round of the state soccer championships didn’t end well for the Kenai Central girls.

The Kardinals saw their state title hopes go up in smoke with a 4-0 loss to the defending state champion Dimond Lynx Thursday afternoon at Eagle River High School.

Kenai’s season is still alive but a loss today will end it. The Kards will face conference rival Colony at noon today at Eagle River in their chase for fourth-place honors.

Head coach Dan Verkuilen said the eight seniors on the team had a tough time performing at full capacity after a late night following Kenai Central’s graduation back home.

“You could see they were tired, they didn’t get in last night until 1 a.m.,” Verkuilen explained. “We had to take them out in the second half to rest and hydrate.”

Although the Lynx finished with four goals, the proceedings were much more lopsided than the final score would indicate. Kenai had trouble possessing the ball for most of the match while Dimond thrived in Kenai’s zone, harassing Kardinals goalkeeper Kailey Hamilton with high-pressure attacks.

Dimond head coach Tim Valesko said he was pleased to see the passing efficiency of his team, but added they had trouble finishing opportunities due to Kenai’s defensive fortitude.

“Kenai showed us good numbers behind the ball,” Valesko said. “But our girls showed good composure.”

Verkuilen said Dimond’s intense offensive pressure forced the Kardinals to bring back an extra defender, moving midfielder Annabelle Schneiders to the defensive line in order to keep the Lynx out.

“We expected them to win possession,” Verkuilen said. “We were just looking at their scores this year, and they obviously have a great side with a lot of speed.”

It took some work for the Lynx to score their first goal, but in the 23rd minute, their patience paid off when Kylie Judd lofted a ball toward Hamilton from a sharp angle, getting an odd bounce to sail over Hamilton’s head to put Dimond up 1-0.

Dimond went up 2-0 in the 36th minute with a hard boot from 30 yards out by Calee Stark that Hamilton hardly had a chance to save.

After halftime, Dimond midfielder Kelsey Eagle settled the ball in the 53rd minute for a punch-in from 20 yards out to push the lead to 3-0, and Madeleine LaPorte wrapped up the scoring with a close-range strike in the 61st minute.

Kenai Central’s Cassi Holmes (left) runs alongside Dimond’s Allison Shafer in a race to the ball Thursday at the state soccer tournament at Eagle River High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Cassi Holmes (left) runs alongside Dimond’s Allison Shafer in a race to the ball Thursday at the state soccer tournament at Eagle River High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central goalkeeper Kailey Hamilton blocks a shot from Dimond’s Kelsey Eagle, Thursday at the girls state soccer tournament at Eagle River High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central goalkeeper Kailey Hamilton blocks a shot from Dimond’s Kelsey Eagle, Thursday at the girls state soccer tournament at Eagle River High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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