Monday’s soccer games between Soldotna and Kenai at Soldotna’s Justin Maile Field did not count in the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division standings.
You wouldn’t have known it from the frantic, end-to-end soccer that broke out at the final minutes of the boys game.
That action was punctuated by a game-winning header from Dylan Ackerman in stoppage time to give the Stars a 2-1 victory.
The late strike gave the Stars a sweep for the day, building on the 5-0 victory by the SoHi girls earlier in the day. The SoHi girls are now 6-0, while the boys are 7-1. The Kenai girls fall to 5-1-1, while the Kenai boys are 3-3-1.
The first half of the boys game was relatively nondescript, with frequent substitution and a windy day on a narrow turf field not allowing much flow to the game.
Soldotna’s Ty Fenton shook some life into the contest just 30 seconds into the second half when he controlled an unruly ball in the box and scored.
“Goals typically happen in the first five and last five minutes of the half,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said. “It’s typically a focus issue, and that’s probably what that was. I’ll have to look at the film to be sure.”
From that point, Soldotna gradually took control of the game for a mix of reasons: a gathering, cold wind at SoHi’s back, Soldotna’s midfield-directed possession game, and Reemtsma’s knowledge that he wanted to keep his players fresh for today’s Southern Division game against Homer.
But all that changed when Kevin Ramos found Zack Tuttle with a throw-in just outside the box.
Tuttle blew by a pair of SoHi defenders and finished in the near, top corner to tie the game.
From then on, it was the rivalry that mattered, and not whether the game counted in the Southern Division.
Kenai pressed forward with more urgency than it had shown all day, but that also left the Kards more exposed on the back end.
With four minutes left, Charalambos Asimakopoulos crossed to Fenton, who appeared to have the game won with his second goal.
But Kenai goalie Wren Norwood sprung a stupendous save to keep the game level.
“I didn’t think he was going to get there,” Soldotna coach Darryl Byerley said. “It was an amazing save by Wren.”
Added Reemtsma, himself a former college goalie: “It was as good of a save as you’ll see at this level, or at any level.”
But the game rushed on, and just as the proceedings entered stoppage time, Asimakopoulos was fouled just outside the corner of the box.
He took the restart and played a firm, outswinging ball to the far post, where Ackerman’s crushing header burst into the back of the net.
“We’ve been burned on restarts a few times — corner kicks and free kicks,” Reemtsma said. “With limited practice time, we haven’t spent much time on it, but that’s something that’s going to change.”
Byerley said the game will help his team going forward.
“Anytime you can take the ebb and flow of a game and come out with a win with a younger team, you’re going to get stronger from it,” he said.
Reemtsma said he was happy with Joe Brighten, who defended the dangerous Asimakopoulos for most of the game and did a pretty good job.
Soldotna girls 5, Kenai Central 0
Miranda Wolfe and Taylor Wilson each had a pair of goals as the Stars were able to subdue their rivals.
The Stars had a strong wind at their back in the first half, yet struggled to make much happen. The exception was 11 minutes into the match, when Abi Tuttle played a long ball to Wolfe, who was able to hold off defenders and finish.
“We weren’t doing what we do well, and that’s play to feet,” Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said. “We tried to play through balls or hard over the top. We also were flat-footed in the midfield and weren’t winning any 50-50 balls.”
Love also was disturbed that the Stars didn’t use the wind to take shots from outside the box, despite his pleas to take just that action.
In the second half, the Stars got control of the match in an impressive display of soccer, although it must be noted Kenai didn’t have its best lineup on the field.
All-state sweeper Kylie Morse missed the entire match due to a black eye sustained over the weekend, and forward Lara Creighton left in the first half with a leg injury. Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen also did some tinkering with positions.
But as Love pointed out, that didn’t take away from what SoHi was able to accomplish.
Central defenders Alex Ashe and Taryn McCubbins quickly snuffed out any Kenai attacks and then built up attacks from the SoHi end.
“They’re kind of the quarterbacks,” Love said. “They have everybody in front of them and can see the field much better than the midfielders or forwards.”
Seven minutes into the half, Wolfe found her sister, Alyssa, in the box. Keeper Alli Steinbeck saved Alyssa’s blast, but Wilson was there for the rebound.
In the 62nd minute, Emmalee Johnson then scored on a corner kick from Skylar Shaw. Just two minutes later, McCubbins found Shaw in the midfield, and Shaw’s through ball to Wolfe set her up for a goal.
Wilson finished the scoring on a penalty kick with eight minutes to play.
Maddie Kindred had the shutout for Soldotna.
“Soldotna played a good game and we had a good half,” Verkuilen said. “We got a good look at them and I know we can play with them with our full lineup.
“Not having a forward and a sweeper is a big deal playing against a team like Soldotna.”
But Verkuilen also lauded SoHi for its depth. He said the Stars can afford to not have a few key players, while that is a luxury his program does not have.
At the same time, he said Rebecca Miller did a good job filling in at sweeper, while Sarah Every was solid at stopper. He also said Cassi Holmes, Cori Holmes and Hannah Drury put together some nice combinations.