Soldotna’s Andrew Arthur celebrates his goal with Lane Hillyer (17) and Gehret Medcoff (5) on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Andrew Arthur celebrates his goal with Lane Hillyer (17) and Gehret Medcoff (5) on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai girls, Soldotna boys nab Peninsula Conference soccer crowns

The Kenai Central girls and Soldotna boys soccer teams won Peninsula Conference titles Saturday at Kenai Central High School.

The Kenai Central girls defeated Soldotna 1-0 in overtime, while the Soldotna boys toppled the Kardinals 3-0.

The Kardinals girls won the Peninsula Conference for the third straight season, while the Stars boys ended Kenai’s two-year reign atop the league.

The third-place matches saw the Homer girls defeat Nikiski 6-2 and the Homer boys top Nikiski 10-0.

The Kenai and Soldotna girls and boys had secured berths at the Division II state tournament by getting to the final.

Sunday, the Homer girls and boys learned they both received at-large berths to state. The Homer girls are going to state for the fifth straight season, while the Mariners boys are going for a second straight year.

In the boys bracket, Soldotna is the top seed and opens with No. 8 Kodiak at 1 p.m. Thursday at Wasilla, while No. 5 Kenai plays No. 4 Palmer at 5 p.m. at Palmer, and No. 7 Homer plays No. 2 Juneau-Douglas: Yadaa.at Kale at 1 p.m. at Palmer.

In the girls bracket, No. 2 Kenai plays No. 7 Grace at 11 a.m. Thursday at Palmer, No. 3 Soldotna plays No. 6 Ketchikan at 11 a.m. at Wasilla and No. 4 Homer plays No. 5 Monroe Catholic at 9 a.m. at Colony.

Soldotna boys 3, Kenai 0

The Stars moved to 15-0-1 and beat Kenai (9-5-1) for the third time this season on a game that hinged on the way the ball bounced off a side post 15 minutes apart.

Playing with the wind and against a team that had played 100 minutes the night before, Soldotna pounced on Kenai.

In a first half filled with multiple chances for Soldotna, the Stars finished one in the ninth minute — a cross from Nuno Venturi to Lane Hillyer.

“The wind was tough to run into for that first 40 minutes, for sure,” Kenai head coach Shane Lopez said. “In the second half, the guys came out and we got back to our game plan.

“We applied some pressure and unfortunately, we just weren’t able to convert it.”

Soldotna coach Erik Dolphin said it’s hard to argue with an undefeated season. At the same time, he said the game was a good lesson as to what can happen if his squad doesn’t convert chances and doesn’t play a full 80 minutes.

“I think we played well for 50 of the 80 minutes,” Dolphin said. “We hit a lull there in the middle section of the game as you’re feeling the pressure, and we didn’t make the best choices with the ball.

“But we were able to persevere and hold them off.”

In the 51st minute, Kenai earned a penalty kick. Trae Pitsch nailed the outside of the post and the ball went out-of-bounds.

Just 15 minutes later, Soldotna earned a direct kick from 25 yards and Nuno Venturi banged it in off the post.

“One goes bar in and the other one goes bar out,” Lopez said. “If that game is 1-1 there, it’s a whole different game.”

As it was, Kenai had to push forward for the equalizer. Just six minutes after Venturi’s strike, it cost the Kardinals again.

Jace O’Reagan blasted the ball into the box from near midfield, and Andrew Arthur tracked it down for a 3-0 lead.

Dolphin was happy with the way his whole team worked together.

He said the back line of Collin Peck, Owen Buckbee, O’Reagan and Zac Buckbee limited chances on goalie Luke Hillyer, and Zac Buckbee moved up into the midfield to help Simon Willets and Daniel Heath win balls.

On the wings, Lane Hillyer and Johnny Wardas combined with Arthur and Venturi to create opportunities.

Lopez said his back line held up well under a lot of pressure, giving particular credit to Ben Harris.

Kenai girls 1, Soldotna 0

It proved tough to establish any separation between these two closely matched sides. Kenai (14-2-1) and Soldotna (12-2-2) split a pair of regular season matches.

After a scoreless first 80 minutes of the game, and a scoreless 10-minute overtime period, Kenai struck in the second minute of the second 10-minute overtime period.

Kylee Verkuilen played a corner kick into a scrum just in front of the goal. The ball fell to Brynnen Hanson and she knocked in the game-winner.

“These are two of the best teams in the state,” Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said. “So that was a great preliminary to state. All the little stuff you go through, the ups and downs.”

The scoreless portion of the game was not without its drama, although a whipping crosswind meant players spent an inordinate amount of time taking throw-ins on the east sideline.

“It’s not the way you want a game to go, with the weather and everything else,” Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said. “But it is what it is. We battled through it.”

In the 23rd minute, Soldotna earned a penalty kick, but Kenai goalie Maddie Malone turned back a shot from Emily O’Reagan.

“Maddie played a great game today,” coach Verkuilen said. “She was just on everything.”

Verkuilen said Malone was part of a group — along with Kylee Verkuilen, Kate Wisnewski and Seanna Swanson — the kept the middle solid and held back the Stars. The coach also gave credit to Evelyn Cooper for a good game on defense.

The stage was set for Kenai to win the game in regulation when the Kardinals earned a penalty kick in the 80th minute.

Verkuilen, who was named conference coach of the year and honored for his 25 seasons at Kenai Central, chose his daughter, Kylee, the conference MVP, to take the penalty.

But standing in Kylee’s way was freshman SoHi keeper Ryan Queen. Queen is the daughter of Stephanie Queen, who was Verkuilen’s goalie is in his first year at Kenai.

Queen saved the penalty kick and the whistle immediately blew to end regulation.

“I actually asked her during the one intermission, ‘What were you thinking,?” Love said of Queen. “She said, ‘I really wasn’t.’

“She’s usually pretty calm, cool and collected.”

Coach Verkuilen was happy with the way his team responded to the disappointment. Kenai was dangerous on corner kicks all day and kept earning them until taking the one that mattered.

“I think everybody did what they were supposed to do today,” Love said. “As much as we could. And we played our hearts out.”

Homer girls 6, Nikiski 2

The Mariners improved to 8-4-3 overall, while the Bulldogs ended their season at 2-11-0.

Lou Wise had a hat trick for Homer, while Minadora Reutov, Talia Weisser and Addi Grimes added tallies. Talia Weisser had two assists, while Reutov and Emma Grimes added helpers.

Nikiski coach Angie Coelho wrote in a text message that her team fell apart defensively in the first 20 minutes of the second half and could not recover.

Coelho wrote it was nice to see Ashlynne Playle get a few goals. She also wrote her team passed well, outside of the defensive errors.

“I’m sad to be losing so many players as my seniors move on, but very excited to see what kind of team we end up with next year,” Coelho wrote.

Homer boys 10, Nikiski 0

The Mariners moved to 7-6-1 overall, while Nikiski ends its season at 2-11-0.

Michael Reutov had a hat trick for Homer, while Kai Waltenbaugh, Espen Hennick and Tung Tran had two goals, and Lucas Story added a tally. Walden Kraszeski had the shutout.

Peninsula Conference awards

BOYS

MVP — Aloshia Cross, Kenai.

Coach of the Year — Horst Haunold, Nikiski.

Good sport — Simon Willets, Soldotna; William Wilson, Kenai; Nathan Overson, Homer; Seth Payne, Nikiski.

Second team — Andrew Arthur, Soldotna; Kai Waltenbaugh, Homer; Kevin Love, Nikiski; Carter Eiter, Nikiski.

First team — Rocco Flora, Homer; Trae Pitsch, Kenai; Cole Langham, Kenai; Lucas Story, Homer; Luke Hillyer, Soldotna; Sawyer Vann, Kenai; Zac Buckbee, Soldotna; Collin Peck, Soldotna; Carson Grimm, Kenai; Nuno Venturi, Soldotna.

GIRLS

MVP — Kylee Verkuilen, Kenai.

Coach of the Year — Dan Verkuilen, Kenai.

Good sport — Kaytlin McAnelly, Soldotna; Evelyn Cooper, Kenai; Christi Weisser, Homer; Alexa Iyatunguk, Nikiski.

Second team — Sadie Lane, Soldotna; Morgan Lemm, Soldotna; Brynnen Hanson, Kenai; Ruby Hill, Homer; Zoey Ellis, Nikiski; Millie Hornung, Nikiski.

First team — Tait Cooper, Kenai; Goldie Hill, Homer; Talia Weisser, Homer; Grace Beiser, Kenai; Bay Bloom, Soldotna; Alexa Lee, Soldotna; Addi Grimes, Homer; Emma Weeks, Nikiski; Kate Wisnewski, Kenai; Kendra Rose, Soldotna.

Soldotna’s Bay Bloom and Kenai Central’s Brynnen Hanson battle for the ball Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Bay Bloom and Kenai Central’s Brynnen Hanson battle for the ball Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Zac Buckbee and Daniel Heath battle for the ball Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Zac Buckbee and Daniel Heath battle for the ball Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Brynnen Hanson and Kate Wisnewski battle for the ball Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Brynnen Hanson and Kate Wisnewski battle for the ball Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Morgan Lemm shields the ball from Kenai Central’s Tait Cooper on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Morgan Lemm shields the ball from Kenai Central’s Tait Cooper on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Johnny Wardas shields the ball from Kenai Central’s Zane James on Saturday, May 19, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Johnny Wardas shields the ball from Kenai Central’s Zane James on Saturday, May 19, 2024, at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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