The host Kenai Central soccer teams swept nonconference games from Eagle River on Friday, with the boys pulling away for a 4-0 victory and the girls squeaking out a 2-1 triumph that was in doubt until the final seconds.
Both Kenai squads are now 2-0, while the Eagle River boys are 0-4 and the Wolves girls are 1-4.
In the girls game, Eagle River earned a penalty kick in the final minute trailing by the one goal.
When Mallory Garbe’s attempt went high and wide, the referee immediately blew the whistle to signal the end of the game and Kenai goalie Alli Steinbeck and the Kardinals were able to celebrate.
Even though the game was out of conference, Wolves coach Laura Gardner said the loss stung.
“We still want to win every game we play in, especially against an opponent we feel we can compete with,” she said. “I felt we deserved to get something out of today.”
Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen was very happy with what his team got out of the game. The longtime coach still remembers the days before turf and nonwinters when April 8 meant gym practice and the only opportunity to play Anchorage schools came at the state tournament in late May.
“One of the things we wanted is to see the physicality, like they play in Anchorage,” the coach said. “I was worried at the start, but we realized we can play physical teams and still play soccer.”
In the 18th minute, the Wolves took a 1-0 lead when Allonna Walker dribbled into the box and through multiple defenders. The ball eventually found its way to Jordan Meredith for the finish.
But seven minutes later, Hannah Drury drew the Kards even when, from 30 yards out, she tucked the ball just under the crossbar and out of the reach of keeper Addison Swanson.
“We have some big legs and that’s something we are going to take advantage of,” Verkuilen said. “When they see the goalie is off her mark, those balls can be tough.”
Just two minutes later, Lara Creighton scored the game-winner for the Kards on a cracking shot from just outside the penalty area.
“It was a beautiful hit and she can do that,” Verkuilen said. “She has that kind of leg strength.”
Both teams had their second-half chances, headlined by the penalty kick.
“We had our chances, we just were not able to do anything with them,” Gardner said. “There was a lot of boot and chase. It was not beautiful soccer.”
Verkuilen said Cori Holmes and Drury were workhorses in the midfield, as they will have to be all year.
On defense, he said Brenna Eubank and Rebecca Miller were solid on the outside and Kylie Morse was great at sweeper. On the late penalty kick, Verkuilen said Morse had to dive in to stop a point-blank shot and missed the ball.
Kenai Central boys 3, Eagle River 0
As a sophomore, Zack Tuttle is already a team captain, and he showed why by notching a hat trick to spur the Kardinals.
“Zack is a great striker,” said Kenai assistant coach Shane Lopez, who was filling in for head coach Joel Reemtsma while he was out of town. “He’s also developed into someone who is one of our leaders.”
In the 25th minute, Kenai’s Chris Hamilton stole the ball just outside the side of the penalty area and was fouled when he took off for goal, giving the Kardinals a penalty kick.
Tuttle calmly connected, and when that try was called back because the goalie was still adjusting his glove, Tuttle scored again.
A pivotal point came 15 minutes into a second half with the score still at 1-0, when Grant Burningham earned a point-blank chance only to be turned aside by Kenai goalie Tristan Landry.
“We had some good chances and we weren’t able to convert them,” Eagle River assistant coach Steve Johnson said. “If we could have made one of them, it would have been a different game.”
With seven minutes left in the match, another turnover cost the Wolves. This one came at the midfield stripe, but Tuttle carried the ball all the way to the net to score.
“We made a couple of defensive mistakes and Kenai took advantage of them,” Johnson said.
Since is was a road nonconference game, Johnson said Eagle River put in some subs at that point, and Tuttle and junior captain Max Dye took advantage with goals.
Both assistants agreed that both teams did a good job building the attack.
“Our defense played really well too,” Lopez said. “When they are moving the ball, it makes it possible for Zack and Max to put goals in.”