Kenai Central’s nonconference loss to South Anchorage on Saturday afternoon did not leave the Kardinals girls soccer team celebrating, but it was about as close to a moral victory as one could get.
The Wolverines escaped Kenai’s Ed Hollier Field with a 2-1 win over the Kardinals thanks to a late goal by Natalia Cole, but the performance against the two-time defending state champions is what Kenai fans will remember.
“It doesn’t feel like a win, but it’s a good confidence builder,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “We were exactly in the situation we wanted to be in the last 10 minutes.”
Just minutes away from what would have been a 1-all tie against one of the toughest teams in the state, Kenai fell victim to a corner kick strike from Jordan Foraker, who sent the ball whistling into the snarling pack of Kenai and South players in the goalie box. The first bounce ricocheted off a player and Cole booted in the go-ahead goal with just stoppage time remaining.
Kenai dropped to 3-0-1 with the loss, while South improved to 5-1-0 with the win.
After the Kards were unable to answer in the final few minutes, it was South walking off the pitch with the win, but the Kenai crowd felt the enthusiasm as well.
“The girls had a great attitude,” Verkuilen said.
South barraged Kenai goalkeeper Alli Steinbeck with 14 shots on goal and kept the defensive line busy all afternoon, but the Kards still held the visitors scoreless in the first half.
With the game slated to start at noon, a bit of confusion began the day for the Wolverines, who were expecting the boys game to be played first. As the boys team was going through its pregame routine, South coach Brian Farrell was trying to refuel his girls squad with a lunch trip to Subway, but quickly realized which teams were on the field.
“It certainly had something mental to do with it,” Farrell said about the early minutes. “We were dropping off the boys team and we were told girls play first.
“But these girls are good enough to play through it.”
All the stellar defensive play by Kenai in the opening 40 minutes went to naught in the first minute of the second half, when striker Alex Ott sent a shot from inside the box from a tough angle past Steinbeck, putting South up 1-0.
Just seven minutes later, Hannah Drury notched the equalizer on Kenai’s first shot on goal in the game with a 30-yard blast from the left corner of the goalie box that caught South’s keeper off-guard. The ball sailed just under the crossbar to knot things up.
In the half hour between Drury’s strike and the game winner by Cole, South pressed hard to retake the lead, but several shots went awry. One strike dinged off the left post and a few others soared high.
“They have some athletes,” Farrell said about the Kards.
As the steady rain that plagued the second half quickly bowed out to rays of bright sunshine, the Kardinals were forced to settle for the close loss. Ultimately, South outshot Kenai 14-2.
Verkuilen praised the defensive play by Sarah Every and college-committed Kylie Morse, both of whom combined with Rebecca Miller and Jacey Ross to create a defensive wall against the speedy South front line, which included Megan Currier. Currier was sent off with a yellow card in the 71st minute for a takedown in the Kenai goalie box, but was substituted back in five minutes after the card.
South boys 2, Kenai 0
The Kardinals boys tested the Wolverines all afternoon at sun-splashed Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, but could not solve South’s defense in a shutout loss.
Junior Talon Stanley converted a penalty kick late in the first half and senior Patricio Moyano slotted in the insurance goal midway through the second half to seal the win.
Kenai junior goalie Tristan Landry finally saw his shutout season end with the PK strike, but otherwise held the South offense at bay with several clutch moves. Landry blocked four shots on goal and staved off nine others that had a chance at slipping in. Overall, South outshot Kenai 13-1.
Kenai boys coach Joel Reemtsma repeated the mantra that helped earn his squad its first state victory last spring.
“We’re happy, but not satisfied,” Reemtsma said. “We created opportunities, and the defensive organization was there.”
Reemtsma said the Kards were able to use the game as a crucial learning opportunity. In particular, Reemtsma was pleased to see Kenai’s defensive core working to move the ball up the field and give the offense a chance to score.
“We forced them to make mistakes,” Reemtsma said.
While South had its chances to score several times in the first half, the robust defensive line of Max Dye, Karl Danielson and Braydon Goodman stymied the ferocious Wolverines.
As junior captain of the team, Stanley said the thought of seeing an improved Kardinals team at the season-ending state tournament is a scary one.
“They’re not a team we want to see at state,” Stanley said.
Stanley’s PK came as a result of contact in the goalie box between Rykker Riddall and South forward midfielder Kai Kokesh with a minute left to play in first half regulation.
The hits kept coming early in the second half with a shot that rang off the left post just three minutes in.
Moyano was the recipient of a fortuitous bounce in the goalie box, getting space and finding the ball for a goal at the 59th minute.
“I ran a short corner (route) in the box and he was able to get it,” Stanley described.
With their weekend complete, Kenai currently stands with a 3-0-1 overall record with a home game against Seward next up on the schedule on Monday at 6 p.m. The Kards will also face Northern Lights Conference opponents Nikiski and Colony next week.