With such a freshmen-heavy squad this year, Kenai boys soccer coach Joel Reemstma has had to figure out the best way to build a winning team on the field each and every game.
Whatever he’s been doing, it’s been working. The Kardinals claimed their first home win of the year with a 4-0 victory Friday evening over Northern Lights Conference opponent Palmer at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, which improved their season mark to 5-3-1.
Reemstma said the process of putting together a solid squad has been an interesting task.
“The team chemistry has been important to me, because some of these guys have a lot of club experience, and others don’t,” Reemstma said. “Once you begin to score goals, it becomes easier to hit the back the net again and again.”
One of the starting freshmen, Zack Tuttle, has scored many goals on the club scene, and on Friday, Tuttle scored twice to lift Kenai to the win. Tuttle was joined on the scorecard by senior captain Austin McKee and senior Nate Saavedra.
“I don’t take any opponent lightly,” Tuttle said after the game. “I just get out here and try and move the ball around. Try and get it in the net.”
Tuttle highlighted efficient passing and ball movement as reasons for the Kardinals success with a young team this season, a strength that he backed up on the field with his opening goal in the 11th minute. Tuttle collected the ball on the left side of the field from fellow freshman Luke Beiser just a moment after breaking free from two Palmer defenders and raced toward the Moose’s goal, chipping a perfectly laid shot over the Palmer goalkeeper for a 1-0 Kenai lead.
“Could’ve had a better finish,” Tuttle said lightheartedly. “But it was nice to get a goal early.”
Tuttle added a second goal in the second half, putting together a similar drive in the 68th minute to score and increase Kenai’s lead to 3-0.
With the large variance in ages, Reemstma said getting everybody on the same page can be a challenge.
“The tricky thing has been getting the off-the-ball movement, and adjusting to each other with passing combinations,” Reemstma said. “They are so varied in age and experience and composure.”
At times during the game, Reemstma had as many as five freshman on the field at once.
McKee put in his goal in the 25th minute of the first half to give Kenai a 2-0 lead. McKee caught a nice through ball just past the Palmer defensive line and beat the goalie to the ball to add the tally. Saavedra scored his first goal of the year for Kenai in the final minute of regulation after toughing out much of the game with an ankle injury.
In between, the Kards had several more moments of close calls that could have been goals. Eleven minutes into the second half, Tuttle sent another threatening chip shot toward the goal but was denied by the crossbar, and two minutes later, McKee nearly converted a corner kick by Jake Eubank into a goal with a header that went sailing over the crossbar.
Senior captain and goalie Wren Norwood earned the shutout for Kenai, saving three shots by Palmer’s attacking line, including a shot in the 70th minute which he lost in the frenzy in front of the net. Luckily, Eubank was standing at the right goalpost and kept the ball from going in.
Shortly after that, Norwood was substituted in goal by sophomore Tristan Landry, who got his first-ever varsity minutes in net for Kenai.
Overall, Kenai outshot Palmer 17-4.
Kenai girls 5, Palmer 0
Two goals from senior Heidi Perkins buoyed the Kardinals to a shutout victory over the Moose on Friday afternoon in Kenai. The Kardinals improve to 7-1-1 for the year.
Perkins, who will be playing for Division II Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, this fall, said the return of two starters from injury — sweeper Kylie Morse and forward Lara Creighton — played a big role in the team’s efficiency and gameplay.
“We have Kylie back, so I think that’s helped us in the back,” Perkins said. “She moves the ball around and helps move it to the center (midfielders).”
Creighton, Hannah Drury and Cori Holmes each scored a goal apiece to help Kenai win. Junior Alli Steinbeck claimed the shutout in goal for the Kards, facing just two shots all game. On offense, Kenai peppered Palmer with 21 shots.
Perkins added that she thought Kenai featured an improved ground game against Palmer, moving away from booting the ball into the air. With teammates such as Morse and Creighton back, Perkins said the flow of the game came more naturally.
“Kylie is like a backbone, like a brick wall back there,” Perkins said. “Lara is a huge help up front.”
Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said he enjoyed seeing every player back from injury and having a full team available to use.
“It was nice getting our lines back together, it looked smooth,” Verkuilen said. “The girls were really unselfish tonight, just one-touch and two-touch passes that were opening up our shots.”
Perkins opened the scoring with a goal before the first two minutes were up. In the 29th minute, Perkins had another opportunity to score when she fired a corner kick into a cluster of Kenai attackers and Palmer defenders stationed in the goal box. The ball was knocked around a few times but ultimately was kicked back out toward midfield.
Drury tallied her goal with less than three minutes left in the first half, receiving a cross from Cori Holmes from the left corner that she successfully converted to put Kenai up 2-0.
At the second-half whistle, the Kards charged out of the gates hard, notching five shots on goal in the first 10 minutes. One of those shots was successful, as Creighton scored four minutes after halftime for a 3-0 Kenai lead.
Perkins’ second goal, in the 67th minute, boosted Kenai’s lead to 4-0. After a Palmer player fouled Creighton just on the edge of the box, Perkins directed the free kick toward the goal as soon as she could, once the ball was placed, catching the defense off guard.
“I was like, ‘I gotta take this right now,’” Perkins said. “I didn’t really aim at all, I was just trying to go as soon as I could.”
Four minutes later, Kenai was given a penalty kick after a Palmer foul in the box, and Holmes successfully converted the kick with a powerful strike.
Kenai girls 2, Colony 0
Heidi Perkins scored twice as the host Kardinals notched an NLC victory over the Knights on Saturday.
Kenai is now 8-1-1 overall.
In the first 10 minutes of the game, Perkins got the ball at midfield and beat multiple defenders before finishing.
Then, near the end of the first half, Kylie Morse had a free kick from 50 yards out. Colony left an opening at 30 yards out, and Morse found Perkins there.
“She turned and drilled one from 30 yards,” Verkuilen said. “When she hits it right, it’s pretty impressive.”
Verkuilen said Colony did a good job building the attack on the outside, and said Peyton Johnstone had several attempts on goal.
She had one bender to the far post that Alli Steinbeck totally laid out to save.
“It was one of those saves that when you start talking all-state or all-region, it shows she should be in the running,” Verkuilen said.
Verkuilen said Morse did a great job breaking up attacks at sweeper, and Cori Holmes did nice work at forward and midfield.
But he said everybody, even the JV swingers he used, contributed to the wins. He said the depth is crucial as the Kards battle colds and flus.
Colony boys 3, Kenai 2
The defending state champion Knights got a pair of goals from Ben Sande in moving to 14-3-2.
“It’s unlikely this will matter for region seeding,” Reemtsma said after falling to 5-4-1. “What we wanted to do is show that we belong and I think we did that.”
Sande struck first with a penalty kick in the 12th minute. Then eight minutes into the second half, Colony went up 2-0 on a nice shot from about 25 yards out.
“It was a seesaw game,” Reemtsma said. “They had the edge in chances and we didn’t possess the ball real well. They’re clever with their runs and one-touch play.”
In the 60th minute, Kevin Ramos crossed to Zack Tuttle for a goal. Reemtsma said Tuttle did a nice job elevating for the top-shelf header.
Then 10 minutes later, Austin McKee found Tuttle with a diagonal through ball and he tied the game with a volley.
But just as against Soldotna on Monday, the Kards were not able to preserve the tie. With about two minutes left, Sande headed in a free kick from about 30 minutes out.
Reemtsma said the free kick was similar to the one SoHi scored on to win Monday, except his squad did a better job marking.
“We were right there with him stride for stride,” Reemtsma said. “The ball was pinpoint and he got a head on it.”