The Kenai Central girls weathered the storm of hail from the sky and shots from Grace Christian on Saturday afternoon in a wet and wild Peninsula Conference soccer clash.
Ultimately, the Kardinals escaped with a 1-0 victory amid and, as if the referee’s final whistle wasn’t enough to satisfy the heavens, a dramatic flash of lightning and boom of thunder shook the stands just moments after the finish.
“I’ve never played in this much hail,” exclaimed Kenai goalkeeper Kailey Hamilton.
The wintry weather stuck around for the boys game too, which saw the Kardinals prevail 5-0 over Grace in dominating fashion, improving their season to 11-1 overall.
“I haven’t seen lightning in Alaska like that for a long time,” said Kenai boys coach Joel Reemtsma.
Hamilton had her mitts full all game in a brilliant performance in goal, stopping eight shots on goal from the Grizzlies and warding off countless other balls that came her way amid the spring hailstorm.
Kenai girls head coach Dan Verkuilen praised Hamilton and the back row of the Kenai defense — namely Alyssa Maw, Damaris Severson, Anya Danielson and Taylor Pierce — for their efforts in clamping down on defense, especially for their age. Maw, Severson and Danielson are sophomores and Pierce is a freshman, earning the praise of Hamilton.
“They are amazing,” Hamilton said. “They’re super confident and I’m so thankful to have them.”
The lone goal of the game came early when Kenai received a corner kick in the eighth minute and converted. Liz Hanson’s strike from the corner ultimately found the foot of teammate Julia Hanson on the other side of the box for the goal and a 1-0 lead.
Verkuilen said he was missing two starters to injury, but the young crop of emerging underclassmen stepped up an helped Kenai earn the shutout.
“I played a lot of freshmen today,” Verkuilen said. “They stepped up and played well … the defense isn’t shy to get on the ball and they’re starting to get some chemistry back there.”
Following the early goal by Hanson, the Kards continued to stage runs on the Grizzlies net, but were unable to convert opportunities from Brenna Eubank, Karley Harden, Olivia Brewer, Hanson and Lily Coon.
Eubank and Annebelle Schneiders were celebrated as the two seniors on the team.
The threat of lightning delayed the boys game a half hour as the stands had to be clear until the weather passed.
However, by the time the boys returned for their game, the dark clouds had returned and more hail began pelting the artificial turf at Ed Hollier Field.
In the boys victory, five different players scored, led off by senior Braydon Goodman in the 17th minute. Goodman caught the tip of his cleats on a sequence that started with a short corner kick play between Damien Redder and Kevin Ramos. Redder crossed the ball to Goodman for the goal.
Ramos and Rykker Riddall both notched goals on their senior night celebrations, which had Reemtsma feeling good.
“I’m happy with the way the guys played and passed the ball around,” Reemtsma said. “I’m just pleased with just the fact I can put a lot of guys in there and the quality of play is constant.”
In their first meeting of the year with Grace, Kenai goalkeeper Braedon Pitsch had only a few dangerous shots on goal and earned the blank sheet.
Travis Verkuilen put Kenai up 2-0 with a bullet from the edge of the box in the 20th minute, and Ramos added his goal in the 30th minute with a blast from nearly 30 yards out that whiffed just under the crossbar.
Freshman Leif Lofquist beat out a defender and lofted the ball into the net with seven minutes left in regulation, and Riddall scored in stoppage time to secure the win.