Nikiski girls soccer coach Troy Zimmerman is trying to convince his team of just how much they have improved this season.
The scores continue to do all the talking after the host Bulldogs lost 2-0 to Kenai Central on Monday in Northern Lights Conference Southern Division action.
Nikiski had lost to the Kardinals 7-0 on April 19. That followed a similar improvement against Soldotna — from 7-0 on April 12 to 3-0 on April 30.
“That team has come a long way,” Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said after his team improved to 11-2-1 overall and 3-0 in the Southern Division. “Like I told their coach, they’re an aggressive group of girls that’s coming together and buying into what he’s saying.”
The Bulldogs (4-7, 1-2) are getting harder and harder to score against because their defenders support each other well and goalkeeper Brianna Vollertsen refuses to make a big mistake. Zimmerman had her down for 29 saves.
“She shouldn’t have to do that much but she held up and did a great job,” Zimmerman said.
The Nikiski defense was well fortified up the middle, so Verkuilen spent the game trying to get his squad to get the ball up the side and then cross it. Both goals came on crosses.
In the 24th minute, Sam Morse crossed the ball to Cori Holmes, who placed it out of the reach of Vollertsen. In the 49th minute, Hayley Maw finished a Lara Creighton cross.
Verkuilen said midfielders Holmes and Hannah Drury did a good job distributing the ball, especially in the second half.
“The girls did a nice job getting better shots in the second half,” Verkuilen said. “I just would have liked to have seen three or four goals in the back of the net.”
Nikiski’s biggest challenge is mounting an offensive attack, as Kenai goalie Alli Steinbeck was not challenged in registering the shutout. After shoring up the defense, Zimmerman, who credited midfielder Hannah Love and defenders Avery Kornstad and Melanie Sexton with solid games, said the next step is figuring out how to generate more offense.
He would like to take that next step today at 4 p.m. when the Bulldogs host Homer. Nikiski lost to Homer 4-0 on April 14.
“We’re ready to give them more of a match at home,” Zimmerman said. “We want to show Homer how much we have improved.”
Kenai’s varsity girls are off until hosting a big showdown with Soldotna at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Kenai boys 6, Nikiski 0
The Kardinals had five different players score in improving to 11-2-1 overall and 3-0-1 in the division. Nikiski fell to 1-8-1 and 0-3.
“I was really pleased all the goals were spaced out amongst so many guys,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said. “So many guys are getting a feel for the net that Zack (Tuttle) has had for quite awhile.
“Other guys are getting confident they can rip shots and get in there and score.”
Kenai’s two central defenders had half of the goals. Max Dye started the scoring with a 40-yard shot, while Braydon Goodman followed with a header on a Damien Redder corner kick. Goodman would also score on a corner kick in the second half.
Other goals came from Chris Hamilton on an assist from Tuttle, Tuttle unassisted and a Luke Beiser blast from just outside the box that was set up by Rykker Riddall.
“Once they got a couple of goals, they didn’t start to play, ‘Who can score next?’” Reemtsma said. “They kept their shape and focus.
“Concentration is what it’s all about this time of year.”
Next up is a 1 p.m. Saturday battle against Soldotna at Kenai.
“We’re confident having beaten them once that we have the upper hand,” Reemtsma said. “They’re a good team and they’re going to battle.