Different schools, same Tuttle.
Soldotna senior Abi Tuttle and Kenai Central junior Zack Tuttle turned Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School into their own family dinner table Tuesday in Northern Lights Conference Southern Division action.
First, it was Abi’s turn. She scored both goals as the Stars beat the Kardinals 2-1 to avenge a 7-2 loss earlier in the season. Soldotna moves to 6-5 overall and 2-1 in the division, while the Kardinals are 8-3 and 2-1.
Not to be outdone was Zack. He fashioned a hat trick as the Kardinals topped the Stars 4-1 to sweep the regular-season series. Kenai moves to 9-1 and 3-0, while the Stars fall to 4-7 and 1-2.
“We’ve always been competitive, going all the way back to Boys and Girls Club,” Zack said of the rivalry within the archrivalry with his sister. “We’d always see who could score more goals.”
Zack said he didn’t see the entire girls game, but he did see enough of it to hand him a little extra motivation.
What he saw in the girls game was his sister providing the difference on a brutally windy day when Soldotna celebrated senior day by getting back at Kenai for the 7-2 loss.
“A lot of it had to do with the last time we played them,” Abi said. “We know we didn’t play to our potential. We wanted to show them that we were good and that the 7-2 loss wasn’t us.”
In the first half, the gusts building to 30 mph aided the Stars. In the 34th minute, Hannah Wells took a free kick that got caught up in the jetstream, and Tuttle managed to chase it down for a goal just before Kenai keeper Kailey Hamilton could get to it.
But Kenai came back to knot the game in the 49th minute when Liz Hanson connected on a through ball from Brenna Eubank.
Just one minute later, though, Ryann Cannava played the ball up to Tuttle, who cut the ball back and dribbled to the center of the field before unleashing a shot that completely stopped Kenai’s momentum.
Tuttle, who attended Kenai as a freshman before transferring to Soldotna, said she hasn’t been as confident in her shots from outside the box this season, but the situation spurred her on.
“I wanted this game,” she said. “I didn’t want to let them win. I was going to give everything in me to do this.”
The Soldotna defense was then able to keep the Kardinals off the board and secure the win. Tuttle gave credit to Ella Stenga for a strong game in net, while SoHi coach Jimmy Love said sweeper Talon Hagen and center defender Wells also were solid.
That helped seniors Trinity Ames, Elena Bramante, Sara Federle, Torri Hensley, Abby Kruse, Madison Willets, Jillissa Caligan and Tuttle, and early graduating junior Trenity Griffin, celebrate senior day.
“Like I told the girls, it’s a big win but I’m very meticulous,” Love said. “There’s certain things we need to hone in on in order to make a deep run at regions and make it to state.”
Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen credited the Stars for moving to the ball with urgency.
“Soldotna played a good game and we picked a bad day to play our worst game,” Verkuilen said.
Kenai Central boys 4, Soldotna 1
Missing ball-winning midfielder Kevin Ramos due to injury and going into a rivalry game where every ball would be hotly contested, Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma knew what kind of effort it would take to turn back the Stars.
“We had a long heart to heart back at the school,” Reemtsma said. “This was something we wanted, needed and definitely were going to have to earn.
“We could not take this for granted.”
The Kardinals ended up clinching the No. 1 seed out of the Southern Division, but the outcome was in question for all but the final six minutes.
Kenai took the lead in the 19th minute, when Luke Beiser played the ball into the box and Tuttle finished with karate-kick style. The finish fit right in with a long, flowing headband Tuttle was wearing due to a “ninja” theme the Kardinals have been goofing around with in practice.
Seven minutes later, the Kardinals went up 2-0 when Karl Danielson sent the ball ahead to Tuttle and he flicked it across the goal mouth for a Damien Redder finish.
But the Stars got right back in the game in the 30th minute when Alex Montague scored on a through ball.
“They’re very dangerous on the counter,” Reemtsma said. “I was really impressed with how quickly and intelligently they got the ball forward and outside.”
The Soldotna defense, led by Gavin Goggia and Ethan Bott, then stiffened and kept Kenai off the board for most of the second half.
But the energy Kenai put into winning balls in the midfield began to wear on the Stars. Reemtsma said Rykker Riddall, in particular, did a good job filling in for the ball-winning capabilities of Ramos. But the coach added it takes everybody in a tight, rivalry game like Tuesday.
In the 74th minute, Danielson made a run up the right side and found Tuttle in the box, who put the ball just out of the reach of goalie Chase Miller. Just three minutes later, Kalvin Daniels played a perfect ball over the top of the defense to Tuttle, who was true with the finish to the far post.
“Our team is at a level where teams can play with us for a certain amount of time, but it’s tough to play with us all the way to the end,” Tuttle said.
Soldotna coach Darryl Byerley said his team continues to improve. He was particularly pleased with the way freshmen Eli Wackler, Montague, Brayden Van Meter and Cameron Johnson held their own with Kenai.
While the coach said he’s pleased his team is sticking with top teams like West Valley and Kenai Central, he also knows that won’t mean much when the conference tournament starts.