The Kenai Central soccer teams picked up a pair of conference wins to sweep Nikiski on Thursday afternoon at home, but the real show was the goalkeeping clinics put on by Nikiski.
The Kenai girls (1-1 overall) pulled out a 3-0 Peninsula Conference win, while the Kenai boys (1-2) pulled away late to score a 4-1 conference win over Nikiski at a gusty Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.
But it was both Nikiski goaltenders that put on a show for the crowd. In the girls game, Abby Bystedt held strong, allowing just one goal in the first hour of the game before letting two slip by in the late going.
The boys game was even more unpredictable as a 1-1 halftime score left the Bulldogs playing spoiler for much of the game, thanks to the stellar play by netminder Michael Eiter.
“Kenai’s always been a team that’s untouchable,” said head coach Harrison Deveer. “But I think this is the year where Nikiski gets its name out there.”
Eiter sparkled in goal, even while allowing three goals, by making save after save against a relentless Kenai attack. Eiter faced a total of 16 shots on goal, while Nikiski’s offense scrounged up five total.
“He’s amazing,” Deveer said. “We just had some silly mistakes in our defense, letting somebody scoop right in and score.”
Kardinals sophomore striker Leif Lofquist turned the tide for Kenai with the tiebreaking goal in the 49th minute in the second half. Lofquist rounded up a loose ball that had bounced off Eiter and put in the easy rebound goal for a 2-1 lead.
Lofquist later scored in the 72nd minute to finish with two goals on the night. Kenai also got scores from Travis Verkuilen in the 12th minute and Damien Redder in the 51st. Kenai head coach Shane Lopez said the close game against their conference foes left them with things to fix, but also confidence in securing the first win of the season for the defending Division II state champions. Kenai last week lost to a Division I West Anchorage program.
“It’s nice to get the ones (against) Anchorage and DI schools, but those are hard to come by,” Lopez said. “Maybe a little bit of goal hangover. It’s still early in the year, and for the younger guys it’s easy to lose that focus, but they brought it back.”
Verkuilen’s goal on a goal box scramble put Kenai ahead 1-0, but the lead lasted barely a minute as Gavin White knotted it up for Nikiski with a clear shot by Kenai goalie Braedon Pitsch from the right flank.
The tie lasted to halftime, and Deveer said he was pressing Eiter to pick up the defensive attack in the goal box.
“Eiter needs to be more aggressive,” Deveer said. “All the goals scored on him were balls right in the box, where he was expecting his defenders to clear it, and they didn’t and somebody came in and finished it.”
On Kenai’s side, Lopez praised the efforts of striker Tomas Levy-Canedo, who nearly notched his first goal of the year in the second half on a missed opportunity, and senior Damien Redder and Tucker Vann for keeping the spirits up of the team.
In the girls game, Olivia Brewer broke open a tight contest with two second-half goals for the Kardinals in the team’s 3-0 win.
“My team is developing really good and it’s super exciting,” Brewer said.
Kenai goalie Kailey Hamilton earned the shutout in net for the Kards.
While Brewer shined on offense, Abby Bystedt held strong in net for the Bulldogs with a display of saves. Kenai put nine shots on goal in all.
“(Nikiski) never lets down, so you’re going to earn what you get,” Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen said.
Nikiski head coach Linda Zimmerman credited Bystedt’s night for keeping the Bulldogs in the game and giving them a chance.
“A good keeper is worth their weight in gold,” said girls coach Linda Zimmerman. “We’re just so fortunate to have her.”
Zimmerman also credited the defense of Sammy Napoka in holding the back line steady.
Taylor Pierce scored 22 minutes into the first half to get Kenai on the board. Pierce collected a pass through the center and delivered a strike too quick for Bystedt to handle, putting Kenai up 1-0.
Prior to that, Bystedt slapped away two golden opportunities on a four-man rush by Kenai in the 13th minute to keep the game scoreless.
Bystedt kept up the work in the second half, collapsing on a ball in the 60th minute after both Julia Hanson and Brewer got chances in the goal box.
Brewer said the wind created challenging conditions for both teams as gusts blew across the field from the far side.
“Corner kicks were super hard,” she said. “We came together and did a good job even though the wind was carrying the ball in different directions.”
Verkuilen praised Brewer on the sidelines to help create pressure up front, which helped Bethany Morris to be more effective on the wing, and added that notching the early season conference wins will help the team later in the season.
“The conference games are must wins, so it’s always nice to get that,” he said.
Homer girls 4, North Pole 0
The host Mariners moved to 1-0-1 overall with a nonconference victory over the Patriots.
A pair of freshmen led the way for the Mariners, with Sela Weisser and Kappa Reutov each notching two goals and an assist. Eve Brau also had two assists for Homer, which led 2-0 at the half.
Ali McCarron posted the shutout in net for Homer.
Homer boys 6, North Pole 0
The host Mariners improved to 1-1 overall with a commanding victory over the Patriots in nonconference play.
Daniel Reutov had two goals and two assists to lead the Mariners. In the first half, Tom Gorman scored on an assist from Reutov and Reutov scored on an assist from Gorman for a 2-0 lead.
After the half, the Mariners continued to control the contest. Eyoab Knapp scored on an assist from Reutov, Dexter Lowe scored on an assist from Knapp, Reutov scored on an assist from Knapp and Austin Shafford scored unassisted to complete the scoring.