Kenai Central’s Bridger Beck and Sawyer Vann, and Soldotna’s Andrew Arthur battle for the ball Saturday, May 20, 2023, in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Bridger Beck and Sawyer Vann, and Soldotna’s Andrew Arthur battle for the ball Saturday, May 20, 2023, in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai soccer sweeps Peninsula Conference titles again

The Kenai Central girls and boys soccer teams swept the Peninsula Conference titles Saturday at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School.

The Kardinals won both the titles for the second straight year.

All four of the finals teams had qualified for the Division II state tournament by winning in the semifinals.

The Kenai girls defeated Homer 2-1 on penalty kicks. The tally in the five-round shootout was 3-2.

The Kards girls, who beat Homer in the final for the second straight year, are 16-0-0 overall, while the Mariners are 6-10-1.

The Kenai boys toppled Soldotna 1-0. The Kards, who also defeated Soldotna in the title game last year, are 10-4-3 while the Stars are 9-3-3.

Kenai girls 2, Homer 1 (PK)

The Kardinals defeated the Mariners for the fifth time this season, including a second time on penalty kicks.

In the first eight minutes, Homer went up 1-0 when the combination of a strong wind and a weird bounce put the ball in the Kenai net.

In the 55th minute, Kenai’s Kylee Verkuilen equalized on a penalty kick.

“It was just an unlucky hand ball in the box, or whatever, and our goal was unlucky for them,” Homer coach Mike Tozzo said. “It could have easily been 0-0 if those two things didn’t happen.”

Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen was happy with the way his team limited Homer’s opportunities and created a lot of opportunities.

The Kenai coach said Homer goalie Felicia Weisser is just tough to beat.

“We had a lot of opportunities where we were a step away,” Verkuilen said. “Their goalie is good.”

In the five-round penalty shootout, Izzy Dye and Sidney Flora had scored for Homer, and Cali Holmes and Kylee Verkuilen had scored for Kenai.

Kate Wisnewski, Kenai’s fifth shooter, then won it, spurring a celebration around Wisnewski and then Kenai keeper Maddie Malone.

Coach Verkuilen said Wisnewski has a big leg, but often that means the ball flies over the goal. Verkuilen said Wisnewski was hesitant to take the kick.

“I’ve been working with her to just keep it down,” Verkuilen said. “I just told her to let it go.

“I put her last for a reason. Her shot is just so powerful after watching the first four hits.”

Tozzo said his team had been having trouble stringing good halves of soccer together. He said Homer was able to do that in this tournament and the penalty kick shootout doesn’t change that.

“You’re not playing soccer anymore,” he said. “PKs are fun, but it’s not like I feel that we lost. And the girls aren’t upset either.”

Tozzo said the whole team played well, with special mentions for Weisser in the goal and Channing Lowney, Goldie Hill and Izze Dye out on the field.

Verkuilen said the penalty kick victory was important because it should help Kenai’s seeding at state.

The coach also said the victory was a team effort.

“When somebody got tired, somebody was there to pick them up,” Verkuilen said.

Kenai boys 1, Soldotna 0

The Kardinals won the title by scoring two goals in two games and keeping Homer and SoHi off the scoreboard for a combined 160 minutes.

Ezekiel Yragui was in net for all of those 160 minutes for Kenai. He staged a goalkeeper duel with Luke Hillyer on Saturday as both teams went back and forth with great chances.

“It was definitely one for the ages,” Kenai coach Shane Lopez said. “Both sides had chances and both keepers made phenomenal saves.”

Kenai broke through in the 68th minute when Dresden Reith tracked down a ball in the box and rolled it past Hillyer toward an empty net. Wade James tapped it in.

“We had a miscommunication between the keeper and defender and let the ball roll free into the box to a striker,” SoHi coach Erik Dolphin said. “And it’s in the back of the net.

“It was just a mental error and in this type of a tight match, it’s just going to take one mistake from somebody somewhere, and that’s probably going to change the outcome of the game.”

Kenai had tied SoHi, lost to SoHi on penalty kicks, and lost to SoHi by a goal this season.

“You had a team that we’d lost to a couple times, but these guys felt nothing but belief all this weekend,” Lopez said. “They felt they could get the goals and win these tight ones.”

Lopez said credit goes to Yragui and the defensive line for the tournament shutout. He also said Sawyer Vann won a lot of SoHi’s long throw-ins, and Reith, Trae Pitsch and Zane James provided a boost off the bench.

Dolphin said Collin Peck did a good job tracking Wade James, while conference MVP Simon Willets and Zac Buckbee were solid in the midfield.

Soldotna girls 1, Nikiski 0

The Stars won third place to improve to 10-5-0. Nikiski is at 3-9-1 overall.

The winning goal came from Bay Bloom, on an assist from Morgan Lemm, with about two minutes left in the first half. Sunny Miller had the shutout for the Stars.

Soldotna coach Jimmy Love gave Nikiski credit for improving during the season. Nikiski lost to SoHi 14-1 on April 20. At the same time, Love was not happy with the way his team played.

“I think we let ourselves down, the team down, the parents down and the school down,” Love said. “We did not come to play.”

Nikiski coach Angie Coelho said it was a good way to end the tournament.

“It was a great game, probably the best one I’ve seen the team play since I started coaching,” she wrote in a text message. “We figured out our defense and even had some scoring opportunities.”

Coelho wrote that starting the season with such a big loss to Soldotna, then ending the tournament with a close loss, says it all.

“I’m immensely proud of how far the girls have come,” she wrote.

Homer boys 14, Nikiski 0

The Mariners won third place. Homer is 5-8-3, while the Bulldogs end at 1-10-0.

Nikiski only had seven players, so the goals came fast for Homer.

Lucas Story scored on a Spencer Dye assist, Story scored on a Jake Tappan assist, Espen Hennick scored on a Tung Tran assist, Bernie Black scored on a Theo McDonough assist, Jackson Snaric scored on a Nate Overson assist, Wyatt Phillpot scored on an Overson assist, McDonough scored unassisted, Owen Pitzman scored on an Overson assist, Jamen Anderson scored on a Dye assist, Pitzman scored unassisted, Walden Kraszeski scored unassisted, Hennick scored unassisted, Anthony Basargin scored unassisted and Black scored unassisted.

Kraszeski and Dye had the shutout for Homer.

Homer coach Adam Diaz said it was nice to get all his players some playing time.

“We were just trying to work on a few things like crosses and stuff like that,” Diaz said. “I do appreciate that Nikiski was able to have those seven so we were able to start the game.”

Diaz got boys conference coach of the year for the second straight year.

“I’m just thankful the coaches thought I was deserving of that,” he said.

Nikiski coach Horst Haunold wrote in a text message that he was proud of his seven for not getting discouraged.

“This team is the steppingstone of building Nikiski into a respectable opponent for next year,” Haunold wrote.

All-conference

GIRLS

MVP — Kylee Verkuilen, Kenai.

Coach of the Year — Dan Verkuilen, Kenai.

First team — Kylee Verkuilen, Kenai; Felicia Weisser, Homer; Liberty Miller, Soldotna; Kate Wisnewski, Kenai; Izzy Dye, Homer; Savanna Stock, Nikiski; Bay Bloom, Soldotna; Avery White, Nikiski; Cali Holmes, Kenai.

Second team — Alex Lee, Soldotna; Sunny Miller, Soldotna; Chloe Goldsby, Kenai; Morgan Lemm, Soldotna; Kori Moore, Kenai; Emma Weeks, Nikiski; Channing Lowney, Homer; Goldie Hill, Homer.

Good sports team — Keely Sundberg, Soldotna; Felicia Weisser, Homer; Grace Beiser, Kenai; Zoey Ellis, Nikiski.

BOYS

MVP — Simon Willets, Soldotna.

Coach of the Year — Adam Diaz, Homer.

First team — Simon Willets, Soldotna; Zac Buckbee, Soldotna; Owen Pitzman, Homer; Wade James, Kenai; Luke Hillyer, Soldotna; Bridger Beck, Kenai; Daniel Shelden, Kenai; Aloshia Cross, Kenai; Rocco Flora, Homer.

Second team — Landen Cialek, Kenai; Collin Peck, Soldotna; Niko Sulczynski, Homer; Gehret Medcoff, Soldotna; Lucas Story, Homer; Kaiden Bogie, Homer; Jakeup Martin, Nikiski; Niles Broussard, Nikiski.

Good sports team — Wyatt Philpott, Homer; Carnell Gump, Kenai; Drew Cox, Soldotna; Niles Broussard, Nikiski.

The Kenai Central boys soccer team celebrates victory Saturday, May 20, 2023, in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Central boys soccer team celebrates victory Saturday, May 20, 2023, in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer goalie Felicia Weisser pushes a shot wide in front of Kenai Central’s Kori Moore on Saturday, May 20, 2023, in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer goalie Felicia Weisser pushes a shot wide in front of Kenai Central’s Kori Moore on Saturday, May 20, 2023, in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Kate Wisnewski celebrates making the game-winning penalty kick on Saturday, May 20, 2023, in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Kate Wisnewski celebrates making the game-winning penalty kick on Saturday, May 20, 2023, in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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