Homer's Owen Pitzman shields the ball from Kenai Central's Wade James on Thursday, April 6, 2023, at Ed Hollier Field at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai soccer sweeps Homer

The Kenai Central girls and boys soccer teams swept Homer in nonconference action Thursday at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.

It was the first game for everybody except for the Kenai boys, who improved to 2-0.

The Kenai girls came back from a 1-0 deficit at the half for a 3-1 victory. The Kardinals boys captured a 4-0 victory.

At the 38-minute mark of the girls game, Homer’s Talia Weisser got a loose ball in the box and was able to beat Kenai goalie Maddie Malone. This was after Homer had a very good first half, also forcing Malone to turn away point-blank chances in the 22nd and 23rd minutes.

Kenai Central head coach Dan Verkuilen said his team played Homer in a season-opening jamboree and did very well. The coach said that made his team relax to much Thursday.

“It was kind of a blessing they got that goal because it kind of slapped us in the face,” Verkuilen said. “I told them, ‘You guys, you know, you haven’t done anything. Nobody should be afraid of you. You’ve got to earn it.’

“And they came out right away in the second half and started to generate chances and never really gave it up.”

Just six minutes into the second half, Kori Moore scored on a header off a corner kick from Kylee Verkuilen.

Kenai then forced Homer goalie Felicia Weisser to make some tough saves.

Just 12 minutes later, Moore scored again, volleying in a long ball from Kate Wisnewski.

At the 63rd minute, Kenai earned a free kick. Verkuilen played it to Wisnewski, who played it back to Verkuilen. She scored from outside the box.

Homer coach Mike Tozzo gave credit to Kenai for coming out and playing a strong half.

The Mariners also haven’t been on their field yet, doing all the practices in the gym. Tozzo said that was a factor in the second half.

The coach also said his team didn’t want the game enough.

“We must have decided we didn’t want to win,” Tozzo said. “We stopped doing all the little things we talked about in practice.

“We stopped getting to 50-50 balls, passing to the feet and talking to each other.”

Coach Verkuilen, whose team has been on the turf for about two weeks, said his team lost two graduates who were main contributors from last season.

This season, the Kards have seven seniors — Rylie Sparks, Cali Holmes, Moore, Chloe Goldsby, Ella Yragui, Brooklyn Martin and Helena Rodriguez.

Verkuilen said Holmes did a good job of moving to sweeper in the second half and solidifying the defense, and Goldsby sparked the team with some runs from right midfield.

Coach Verkuilen added that Kylee Verkuilen did a good job directing traffic in the midfield, and Wisnewski did a good job on defense.

“We have good depth this year at all positions,” coach Verkuilen said. “We can get a good cycle of substitutions.”

Tozzo said his team lost eight seniors from last season and has eight seniors again this season.

“We obviously lost some big pieces in the middle and up front,” he said. “We lost almost all of our midfield.

“It’s tough to rearrange, but as long as I’ve coached, I’ve had to do it every single year.”

Tozzo said senior Izzy Dye did a really good job in the middle, while sophomore Channing Lowney did a great job tracking Verkuilen in the first half.

“We’re a work in progress,” Tozzo said. “We’ve been on the field for an hour and a half.”

In the boys game, Wade James had two goals for Kenai, while Enrique Mercado had a goal and Homer had an own goal.

Ezekiel Yragui played most of the game in net for the Kardinals, while Carnell Gump came in late to finish out the shutout. Lucas Story was the goalie for Homer.

“I’d like to say congrats to Kenai,” Homer coach Adam Diaz wrote in a text message. “This season will not be defined by how we start but how we finish.

“These kids have fight in them, you can build a program with that. I believe in this team, they believe in each other. We just need turf time, then we can proceed going forward.”

Kenai Central's Kate Wisnewski and Homer's Talia Weisser battle for the ball Thursday, April 6, 2023, at Ed Hollier Field at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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