It took them awhile to get there, but the Kenai Central girls soccer team notched a 3-0 triumph over Northern Lights Conference opponent Homer on Tuesday afternoon at Ed Hollier Field, improving to 4-0 to start the season.
Homer dropped to 1-5-1 after the game, which did not count for the NLC Southern Division standings.
The Kardinals started quickly with a goal in the 10th minute from Lara Creighton, whose strike glanced off a Homer defender and soared over Mariners goalkeeper Sam Draves. But the game stayed at a narrow 1-0 until midway through the second half.
Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said he talked to his team at halftime about urgency and giving up goal opportunities.
“It’s a work in progress,” Verkuilen said. “You’re not gonna be perfect, we just got to keep improving with each game.”
With impending road games against Wasilla and Grace Christian this weekend, Verkuilen said the Kards will have their work cut out for them in the only matchups with the northern teams in this regular season.
“They’ve got some speed so they’ll be coming at us,” Verkuilen said. “We’re trying to get rid of a little of the complacency.”
Controlling possession for the majority of the game, Kenai had its opportunities to score again after the early Creighton goal, but the Mariners back line held steady throughout. A shot by Heidi Perkins 17 minutes into the second half ricocheted off the crossbar, and a corner kick four minutes later by Perkins nearly found its way in the net after touches by Jacey Ross and Samantha Morse, but the Kards were denied again.
Finally, a misplayed ball by Draves let Kenai build a two-goal in the 64th minute. Draves moved out to grab the bouncing ball with Morse attacking, but mistimed the bounce, which left Morse with a clear chance to score.
Kenai freshman Brenna Eubank caught Draves out again in the 68th minute with a powerful strike from about 25 yards out. It left Kenai with a 3-0 lead with less than 15 minutes to play.
“Those are the ones that make the difference,” Verkuilen said.
Overall, Kenai outshot Homer 17-1 over the 80 minutes.
Admitting that Kenai is a tough opponent, Homer coach Mickey Todd said his squad had trouble stringing together plays long enough to attack the Kenai defense.
“Dan has a very good program, and a lot of respect for him and his club,” Todd said. “We were kind of standing around watching (Kenai) play soccer.”
Todd added that next Tuesday’s home rematch with the Kards has him hoping for a better outcome.
“We’ve got to make sure that we do not allow (Kenai) to possess the ball,” Todd said. “They possessed the ball about 75 percent of the time tonight.”
Kenai boys 0, Homer 0
Over 80 minutes of soccer could not determine a winner Tuesday night at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.
In the end, Homer freshman Eric Hill earned his first clean sheet in goal for the Mariners, while Kenai senior Wren Norwood locked down the opposite end of the field.
“We didn’t let any in, it was good,” said Homer coach Warren Waldorf. “We get them at our place next Tuesday, so we’ll see.”
The rematch on May 5 in Homer will be the game that counts for conference seeding. The tie left Kenai with a 2-1-1 season mark, while Homer moves to 1-1-2.
Dealing with four injured starters, Waldorf at one point late in the first half had a short crew on the field while a JV player suited up to play.
“We’re kind of used to it,” Waldorf said tongue in cheek.
Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said he was happy, but never satisfied.
“Homer came out and played a very organized and high octane type of game,” Reemtsma said. “We handled the pressure well. We didn’t just deal with their pressure, we created some of our own. There was a lot of good passing by both teams.
“What you saw today was a good example of what you’ll see in regions.”
Kenai led in shots on goal with a 13-4 advantage, but the stats were a bit deceiving. The Kards tussled with the Mariners nearly all game with midfield possession, but Kenai managed to get shots on Hill more often.
Eight minutes into the second half, Kenai defender Max Dye was presented a free-kick opportunity, but ended up being denied by the left goal post.
In the dying minutes, both sides saw crucial scoring opportunities go by the wayside. A Homer foul in the 70th minute left Austin McKee with a free kick just outside the goalie box, but his shot to teammate Zac Tuttle missed high.
With two minutes remaining in regulation, Norwood was suddenly faced with two Homer players on the 2-on-1 attack. Norwood dropped low to cover up the ball, colliding with one of the Homer players while saving the goal.
Reemtsma, a former college goalie himself, said he was feeling the tension himself.
“I was thinking how we are going to score a goal, right up until the end,” Reemtsma said. “I’m not worried about any of the guys playing back there. When you have center backs like Max (Dye), Braydon (Goodman) and Jake Eubank working it, and Wren, who is just a titan in the net.”
Homer heads up to the Valley to play games with Palmer on Friday and defending state champions Colony on Saturday. Kenai faces Wasilla on Friday and Grace Christian on Saturday.