After an opening 11 minutes that saw two goals scored, the Kenai and Soldotna boys soccer teams played to a 1-1 draw on the new Ed Hollier turf Tuesday evening at Kenai Central High School.
The result left both teams with a 1-1-1 season record after splitting a pair of games on the opening weekend of play in the Valley.
“I think both teams were having issues with finishing,” said Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers. “If we can get through the season, we can still fine-tune our finishing abilities and get the ball in the net.”
Soldotna goalie Kayne North held up under Kenai’s relentless attacks in the late minutes of the game, saving 13 of 14 shots on goal. Kenai goalie Wren Norwood faced five shots on goal.
“He had a great game,” Siemers said. “He had a couple of really nice saves early on that kept us in it.”
Kenai coach John Morton expressed satisfaction with the level of play he saw from his Kardinals, but didn’t hide the disappointment of what could have been more.
“It’s one of those deals at the end, we were maintaining possession, but didn’t put it in the net,” Morton said. “We had some good crosses at the end, some pretty scary stuff for them. But we just didn’t get it put away.”
The performance in goal from North was admirable as the senior has been nursing a torn hamstring suffered in the offseason. Late in the going, the Kenai front line continued to press with runs to the outside by TJ Wagoner, whose attempted crosses to teammates were wrapped up by North.
“(Kenai) was playing a lot of long ball, so we were trying to counter those and keep more of the possession and intensity up,” Siemers said. “It kind of fizzled out in the second half.”
North managed to stymie all advances to maintain the tie, but an early slip cost what could have been a victory.
Six minutes into play, Charalambos Asimakopoulos played the ball down the right side of the field and sent a cross in front of net to a wide-open Daniel McElroy, who delivered the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“Having a clean finish on a great cross from the right side, it was great,” Siemers said. “We just needed more of it.”
Five minutes later, however, Trevor Shirnberg corralled the ball from a SoHi defender, took a few jaunty steps toward the goal and sent a high shot into the left corner of the netting.
From there, the final 69 minutes of the match featured a struggle for both squads to finish runs, but the goaltending from both sides was hard to miss as well.
Morton said it was tough to walk off the pitch with a draw, knowing his team had many good looks on net.
“After our game with Colony, we’ve been focusing on trying to possess the ball, and pass it better, keep it on the ground,” Morton said. “We just needed more discipline moving it around with creativity.
“They did that better today.”
Soldotna girls 3, Kenai 1
The SoHi girls became the first soccer team to pick up a victory on the new turf at Ed Hollier field with a victory over rival Kenai.
Soldotna outshot Kenai 15-3 with shots on net, and the end result improved the Stars’ season record to 3-0. The loss dropped Kenai to 2-1.
“We had a talk about coming in and playing Kenai,” said Soldotna coach Jimmy Love.
“With Kenai, it doesn’t matter if the teams are this far apart, or this far apart,” Love said, demonstrating different lengths with his arms. “We come in and the games always seem to be tighter than you would expect them to be.”
Before the game started, both teams lined up on the field to celebrate the first match on the field. After the game, however, the two sides weren’t standing quite on even ground with each other.
After a pretty even start, SoHi senior Julie Litchfield got the scoring started in the 17th minute with a powerful blast from 20 yards out that was positioned just high enough to escape the grasp of Kenai goaltender Alli Steinbeck.
At the 34th minute, Kylee Wolfe sent a long cross from the left corner to Olivia Conradi, who knocked in a shot that extended SoHi’s lead to 2-0.
“I was pleased we didn’t just lay down,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “They showed their spirit and having a lot of young people on the field says a lot. They got tougher as the game went.”
The slow start for the Stars was not the way coach Love imagined it would go, and he said he was calling for his team to settle down into a rhythm.
“The first 20 or 25 minutes, that certainly wasn’t the way we played in the Valley this weekend,” Love said. “It was helter-skelter.”
The Kardinals managed to hold good possession of the ball in the first half, but nearly every surge at the SoHi net was thwarted by a solid defense.
“The longer a game stays close, the longer the game stays close,” Love said. “You start giving the other team a feeling of, hey we got a shot at this. So, we wanted to dominate it and score early.”
After halftime, Soldotna scored a third time with a goal from Alyssa Wolfe in the 49th minute, getting a cross from Litchfield from the right corner.
However, Kenai finished strong with a free kick opportunity in the 76th minute that resulted in a goal. Heidi Perkins took advantage of the call from the ref to put an arcing shot past the SoHi line and senior goalie Katelynn Kerkvliet to close the lead to two goals. Unfortunately for the Kards, the swing in momentum came a bit too late.
Kerkvliet turned back three shots on goal from Kenai, while Alli Steinbeck saved 12 of 15 shots from Soldotna.
Both Kenai teams will face Grace Christian on Saturday. The Soldotna teams will play Houston on Friday.