The Kenai Central and Service girls soccer teams waited 80 minutes to begin their state soccer tournament quarterfinal Thursday evening, but after all that, it took only 23 seconds for the Cougars to strike.
The opening minute strike propelled the Service girls to a 4-1 victory over Kenai to advance to today’s semifinals, while the Kardinals saw their state title hopes go up in smoke. Kenai will play on in the consolation bracket, starting with a 4 p.m. matchup today at Eagle River High School against Juneau-Douglas, 4-0 losers to West Anchorage.
After losing a 6-0 game to Service at last year’s state tournament, Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen impressed the improvement on his players after the final whistle.
“We kept them scoreless in the second half today, and it was a much better adjustment,” Verkuilen said. “(Service’s) team speed is amazing, a lot of those girls play comp soccer in the summer, and they’re really fast.
“I’ll stick with my girls any day of the week.”
With bright sunshine washing over the field Thursday at Service High School, the two sides had to wait patiently as an earlier boys game was forced to overtime. The extra time pushed back the start of the girls contest by over an hour, but moments after the opening whistle, Service sophomore Savannah Nichols took the ball up the right wing and slotted home a goal for a quick 1-0 lead.
However, the Kards didn’t go quietly. After the early goal, Kenai senior goalkeeper Alli Steinbeck — backed by her stout defensive line — stymied Service’s shot attempts long enough for Kenai to respond with a goal in the 20th minute to tie the game. On Kenai’s first shot opportunity of the game, Lara Creighton sent a cross to Olivia Brewer waiting in the right corner, and Brewer delivered an odd-angle shot to the left corner of the netting for a 1-all game.
“We settled down and played our game,” Verkuilen said. “We had a long wait, we just tried to stay out of the sun, but we definitely weren’t on the legs we would’ve liked to have been.”
Steinbeck, who was making saves all day, was pelted with 19 shots on goal.
“That’s probably the busiest I’ve been all year,” she said.
Following the Kenai goal, Service turned up the attack and retook the lead with a trio of goals in a six-minute span. Nine minutes after Kenai’s equalizer, the Cougars struck with a superb kick from Nichols from 20 yards out. Senior forward Madasin Jennings scored a minute later for a 3-0 lead, and Jennings doubled down in the 35th minute, sending a ball that was blocked initially by Steinbeck, but rolled past her for a 4-1 lead at halftime.
“I’m proud of them,” Verkuilen said. “They’re a quality team, and there’s no reason for us to hang our heads.”