The host Kenai Central soccer teams swept Nikiski on Tuesday, with the boys winning 5-1 and the girls taking a 7-0 decision.
It was the type of day that would have been typical of season openers in years past, with a chilling wind scraping through parkas and a soggy grass field being used for the junior varsity games.
But, of course, this is the era of turf, so both Kenai teams improved to 5-1, while both Nikiski teams are 0-3.
The Bulldogs don’t have a turf field to practice on, so both boys coach Jim Coburn and girls coach Troy Zimmerman took the games as valuable opportunities to improve. Neither game counted in the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division standings.
“This was only our third time on turf, so we’ve still got a lot to improve on,” Coburn said.
In the boys game, Zack Tuttle had four goals, including three in a span of nine minutes in the first half, to run his total for the season to 10.
“He’s just bloodthirsty when it comes to goals,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said.
But Tuttle isn’t all that bloodthirsty when it comes to attention, saying after the game it’s important to stay humble.
“We’re looking good,” he said of his squad. “Now, we just have to learn to possess the ball better.”
Tuttle first struck in the 15th minute, when Damien Redder played a through ball that Nikiski keeper Warren Gage did not handle cleanly. Tuttle pounced for the goal.
Just four minutes later, Riley McKee found Tuttle in the penalty area for a 2-0 score, and five minutes later it was 3-0 when Max Dye connected with Tuttle on a through ball.
“You give him the ball in front of the goal and most of the time he’s going to score,” Coburn said of Tuttle. “He’s probably the best finisher on the peninsula.”
Coburn said Gage was starting for the first time in goal, and Dylan Broussard was starting for the first time on defense. He said those two settled in, and, along with Ryder Payment and Javon Pamplin, put up a solid defensive front.
The Bulldogs cut the gap to 3-1 in the 60th minute, when Luck Broussard had a beautiful hit from the top of the penalty area on a corner kick taken by Sam Tauriainen.
“Anytime you can finish a play like that, it feels good, especially against a quality team like Kenai,” Coburn said.
The stingy Kards defense didn’t allow many other opportunities on goal, but Reemtsma wasn’t complaining about the goal allowed.
“Like I told the guys, I’ll never complain when we get beat by a great, quality shot from distance,” he said.
In the final 10 minutes of the game, Tuttle scored on an assist from Luke Beiser and Rykker Riddall scored on an assist from Draiden McMinn.
“I was happy with the number of opportunities in the second half,” Reemtsma said. “We need to finish them better.”
Reemtsma said the Kards have great depth, and that’s showing up in the competition for spots. He said Karl Danielson and Riddall are doing a nice job at defense, allowing Dye to move up into the midfield and Joe Brighton and McKee to get some rest.
The coach also said Kevin Ramos, just a sophomore, is continuing to add to his array of skills in the midfield.
Kenai Central girls 7, Nikiski 0
The Bulldogs defense, led by sweeper Avery Kornstad and goalie Brianna Vollertsen, held the Kardinals off for the first 19 minutes of the game before Kenai started finding the net.
“I chewed on them a bit,” Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said. “I didn’t think they were mentally prepared.
“They weren’t in the right frame of mind for touching it off or looking for the right passes.”
In the early going, when the Kards tried to plow up the middle, the steady Vollertsen, who made 26 saves, was having none of it.
“She was very good back there,” Nikiski coach Troy Zimmerman said. “She does not have too many mental lapses.
“She didn’t quit and she kept rallying the troops. It’s a tough job.”
Verkuilen said the game turned when his team settled down, started touching passes directly to the feet and started looking to get the ball out to the wings.
In the 19th minute, Jacey Ross scored on a rebound off a Lara Creighton shot. In the 25th minute, it was Samantha Morse scoring off a rebound on a Brenna Eubank shot. Six minutes later, Cori Holmes assisted on a Hannah Drury goal.
Then, in the 34th and 57th minutes, the Kards put together nice goals with the passing for which Verkuilen was looking. First, Creighton played to Drury, who found Cassi Holmes for the finish, then Drury played to Creighton, who found Cassi Holmes for another goal.
The sixth goal was a booming strike on a free kick from 33 yards out by Sarah Every. A play from Berit Fossgaard to Jillian Kindred to Savaya Biever then closed the scoring.
Zimmerman, who lauded the midfield efforts of Verity Feltman and Rylee Jackson, said his team did a good job of pushing through the whole 80 minutes and taking as much as possible from the game.
“We’re more worried about what we’re capable of doing, not what the score shows,” he said.
Alli Steinbeck had the shutout in goal for the Kardinals.
Soldotna girls 3, Homer 0
Two goals in the second half helped clinch a Northern Lights Conference matchup for Soldotna in Homer on Tuesday. The Stars improved to 4-3 overall.
Soldotna boys 2, Homer 1
The Mariners opened the scoring in the first half with a goal by Nouredine Mama in the 21st minute, but the Stars responded just three minutes later to tie it up by halftime, then slot home the game winner in the second half.