Kenai sophomore Cassie Holmes moves the ball downfield against West Valley in Friday's state soccer semifinal round at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. The Kardinals lost 2-0.

Kenai sophomore Cassie Holmes moves the ball downfield against West Valley in Friday's state soccer semifinal round at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. The Kardinals lost 2-0.

Kenai girls take 5th, SoHi girls 6th at state

The Kenai Central and Soldotna girls soccer teams ended highly successful seasons with losses Saturday at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.

The Kardinals finished 14-3-2 by losing to West Valley 2-0 in Friday’s semifinals before dropping a 6-0 verdict to Service in Saturday’s third-place game. West Valley would lose 5-1 to South in Saturday’s championship.

The Stars finished 16-3-1 by defeating Dimond 2-1 on Friday to get to the fourth-place game, but then losing that contest to Wasilla 3-2.

A year after making it to the semifinal round of the state 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 the loss to West Valley.

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, who would be named to the all-tournament team.

“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.

Service girls 6, Kenai 0

After two days of soccer in hot conditions, the Kardinals had a tough time matching up with the depth and skill of the Cougars in Saturday’s third-place match.

Kenai finishes fifth for the second-straight season.

“The girls came out with heart,” Verkuilen said. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. They have good skills from top to bottom.

“Sometimes you’re giving a lesson and sometimes you’re getting a lesson. You learn both ways.”

Aislinn Waite, Madison Jennings, Haleigh Van Allen and Siri Parker scored for Service in the first half for a 4-0 lead. Lauren Hepler and Brianna Linnell finished off the scoring in the second half.

Verkuilen said one of the theme quotes for the team was, “It’s always too early to give up.”

“I appreciated that even when it was 4-0 at half, the attitude was let’s start a new half and see if we can win this half,” Verkuilen said. “It’s kind of cool to be around people like that.”

The coach said seniors Heidi Perkins, an all-tournament honoree, and Jamie Bagley finished four years of excellent play, and added Andrea Rivera and Riina Tammilehto also will be missed.

But he said the future looks bright, even with only one or two players set to play comp soccer this summer.

Sweeper Kylie Morse, an all-tournament selection, was the player of the game, while Verkuilen also praised the play of goalkeeper Alli Steinbeck and midfielder Cori Holmes.

“Thanks to the parents and the community that have helped out with this team,” Verkuilen said. “It’s definitely been a community effort.”

Soldotna girls 2, Dimond 1

The Soldotna girls soccer squad had its dreams crushed by the Service Cougars on Thursday, 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.”

Love was glad to earn another 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, all-tournament player 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.

“That way, it won’t be an eye-opener for us at the state tournament,” Love said.

Wasilla 3, Soldotna 2

After topping the Warriors 5-2 and 4-0 in the regular season, the Stars ran into a stouter Warriors defense this time.

“Wasilla was definitely stingy,” Love said. “They dropped a lot of people into our attacking third.”

Wasilla’s Alexa Starr scored 12 minutes into the match, but Alyssa Wolfe, from Abi Tuttle, equalized in the 26th minute. But Starr would score again before the end of the half.

Just six minutes into the second half, a penalty kick from Miranda Wolfe knotted the score at 2, but about five minutes later Wasilla was on top again on a Teyonnah Williams strike.

“If you play hard and don’t win that’s one thing, but we weren’t playing hard the whole game and that’s what I have a problem with,” Love said.

The coach started seniors Miranda Wolfe, Taylor Wilson, Skylar Shaw, Emmalee Johnson, Taryn McCubbins and Alex Ashe in the game.

He said once the disappointment with Saturday’s match wears off, the seniors can appreciate three thirds and a sixth at state.

“That class had a great run,” said Love, who has worked with some of the players for longer than four years. “It’s going to be different next year not seeing their faces on the field.”

Kenai sophomore Lara Creighton works to find a scoring opportunity in Friday's state soccer semifinal round at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. The Kardinals lost 2-0.

Kenai sophomore Lara Creighton works to find a scoring opportunity in Friday’s state soccer semifinal round at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. The Kardinals lost 2-0.

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