Entering the Northern Lights Conference soccer tournament as the top seed from the South division, the host Kenai Central girls were looking for an easy day Thursday.
The Kardinals got exactly that as they cruised to a 4-0 quarterfinal victory over Palmer at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.
“It was nice getting a couple goals early on, which gave us the chance to rest some of our kids,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “We didn’t have to run the full eighty minutes.”
After two first-half goals by Samantha Morse and Cori Holmes put Kenai ahead 2-0 at the halftime break, Kenai junior Lara Creighton iced the victory in the second half with a pair of elegant scoring strikes.
Creighton’s attacking style features a haul of brute force, and when several of her shots did not go in in the first half — including a close shave off the crossbar in the 12th minute — it was up to coach Verkuilen to guide her.
“He always stresses, ‘placement over power’,” Creighton said. “That’s what came with my second goal, I didn’t try to powerhouse it in.”
Six minutes into the second half, Jacey Ross set Creighton up with an assist from the left and Creighton made the turn to rid herself of her defender and slotted in the goal.
Creighton notched her second goal in the 54th minute on a slick through ball.
The Kardinals will face Colony today at 3 p.m. with a state tournament spot on the line. The two teams played to a scoreless draw the first time around in the regular season.
“The Valley (teams) didn’t do us good in the regular season,” Creighton said.
Earlier in the season, Kenai defeated Palmer 3-0 in a game Creighton felt did not demonstrate the full potential of the Kards.
“Our goal today was to keep possession more, and I think we did that today,” Creighton said.
Kenai outshot Palmer 11-1 in the first half, then continued the romp with a 10-2 advantage in shots in the second half.
The Kard opened the scoring 20 minutes in with a goal by Morse, who received a through ball up the middle and sent in the shot undefended for a 1-0 lead.
Holmes scored on a penalty kick in the 33rd minute. A Palmer defender was whistled for a hand ball in the box, and when Holme’s initial kick clanged off the right post, the senior was there for the second-chance attempt.
Kenai goalkeeper Alli Steinbeck had an uneventful day in goal to record the shutout.
Verkuilen anticipates a much tougher matchup with Colony today.
“They have some powerful forwards, which we do too,” he said. “Nothing will be given away.”
Soldotna girls 2, Grace 0
SoHi midfielder Abi Tuttle struck twice to lead the Stars to a quarterfinal win over the Grizzlies at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
“We managed to avoid an upset,” said Soldotna coach Jimmy Love. “I’m pretty meticulous and pretty hard on how they work, and we weren’t happy with how they performed today.”
The win advances SoHi to a semifinal date today with Wasilla at 11 a.m. The Stars beat the Warriors in a scrappy 2-1 win on May 7.
“We learned a lot from them, as far as what they like to do,” Love said about today’s game with Wasilla. “We have to be aware of spacing because those teams like to play that through ball and up over the top, and we’re not as fast as we’ve been in the past.”
On Thursday, Tuttle opened the scoring 22 minutes in with an assist from Whitney Wortham. Tuttle didn’t score again until the final minute of the game, when she collected the ball after a series of passes between Reagan Schoessler and Alyssa Wolfe and slotted home the insurance goal.
Soldotna goalkeeper Maddie Kindred was bothered with only a few saves in the shutout.
Wasilla girls 8, Nikiski 0
The Warriors advanced to today’s semifinal round with a dominant shutout win over the Bulldogs at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
Colony girls 6, Homer 0
The Knights scored all six of their goals against the Mariners in the first half Thursday in Kenai, punching their ticket to today’s semifinal round against Kenai Central.
Homer coach Mike Tozzo said after suffering a similar loss to Colony earlier in the season, he made a few adjustments in hopes of countering Colony’s attack, and the changes worked with a scoreless second half, but the damage was done in the opening 40 minutes.
“I think if you look at the beginning of the season to the end, I can say with confidence we got better every day,” Tozzo said.
Homer finished 10-6 overall in 2016, something the first-year coach was proud of.