The host Kenai Central soccer teams both had clean slates against Nikiski on Wednesday, with the girls winning 3-0 and the boys notching a 9-0 victory.
The Kardinals girls and boys both improved to 1-1 overall while the Bulldogs both dropped their season openers.
The games did not count for Northern Lights Conference Southern Division play because the squads will be meeting again May 5 in Nikiski.
The Bulldogs do not have a turf field, so Wednesday was not only a good opportunity to play a first game, but to get on a field period.
“They did pretty well,” Nikiski girls coach Linda Zimmerman said of her team. “There are definitely still things we need to work on, but now we have a better idea of what those things are.”
The Kardinals took a 1-0 lead in the first half when Liz Hanson struck a towering cross from the right side that sailed over the head of goalkeeper Brianna Vollertsen to Olivia Brewer, who tapped it in with their chest. Kenai Central coach Dan Verkuilen said the combo teaming up for a goal was well-deserved because both made good runs from their outside midfield positions all game.
Three minutes into the second half, Kenai’s Cassi Holmes cracked in a shot from over 30 yards out. Verkuilen said Holmes, along with Annebelle Schneiders, got better and better as the game went on at building up the attack from center midfield.
Kenai, which had 16 shots on goal in the game, completed the scoring midway through the second half when Lara Creighton found Paulyne Catacutan with a through ball.
Kailey Hamilton had the shutout in net for the Kardinals.
Verkuilen said of the 11 positions on the field, seven are being staffed by different players than last year. He said that as those players adjust, the talent will come out, adding this game was 100 percent better than the season-opening loss to South.
“They did a better job going hard to the ball,” Verkuilen said. “That was one of the goals today.”
He also said the Kardinals did a much better job getting shots off. While Verkuilen added that goal-scoring always can be improved, he said Vollertsen’s saves made things difficult.
“Brianna Vollertsen is doing a great job,” Zimmerman said.
The Nikiski coach added that Kelsey Clark and Avery Kornstad were solid in the middle of the defense, while Molly Cason did a great job in midfield.
Zimmerman said the team gave great feedback on what needs to be fixed, and now that fields are clearing up, the Bulldogs can go about fixing those things in practice.
Kenai Central boys 9, Nikiski 0
The Kardinals are one of the top teams in the state, while the Bulldogs have a first-year coach and players with virtually no varsity soccer experience.
But through good sportsmanship, both teams managed to get tasks accomplished.
“They were young, but they really brought a lot of energy and I really appreciated that,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said of the Bulldogs. “We have a large squad and I was able to get a lot of guys out there and see what they were able to do.”
The Kardinals ticked off five goals in the first half — Damien Redder from Zack Tuttle, Kevin Ramos from Rykker Riddall, Tuttle from Redder, Luke Beiser and Avery Hieber.
The goals in the second half were Chase Gillies, Gillies to Riddall, Travis Verkuilen and Nate Beiser.
Tristan Landry and Kaden McKibben combined on the shutout in net.
As the lead got bigger, the Kardinals focused more and more on possession, particularly the challenge of keeping possession using one touch.
Reemtsma said Riley McKee did a good job of facilitating that possession in the midfield.
“Once we got a big lead, we definitely approached it as, ‘What can we do to try and get better?’” Reemtsma said.
Nikiski coach Harrison Deveer played soccer as a foreign exchange student at Kenai and also saw the Kardinals this summer because he organizes the adult league and the Kenai players had some scrimmages against adult league players.
“I’m very impressed with Kenai,” Deveer said. “They’re an amazing team. They could have scored 20 goals if they wanted to.”
Deveer worried about how his team would handle playing Kenai.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “I expected the boys to give up after a few goals. They never gave up and played hard to the end even though we only had one sub.”
That was quite a contrast to Kenai, which commonly subbed groups of five or more throughout the game.
Deveer has been singing the praises of freshman goalie Michael Eiter, and that didn’t change once shots started flying.
“We have to work on some fundamentals and one-on-one defending, but for a freshman he is very good,” Deveer said.