As a freshman, Nikiski's Christian Riddall has many things to learn.
One of those things is that soccer players are supposed to have trouble finishing opportunities early in the season.
After the Skyview and Nikiski girls played to a scoreless tie Tuesday in which both teams failed to finish good chances, Riddall scored three goals in the first 30 minutes of the boys game to lead the visiting Bulldogs to a 5-0 victory over the Panthers in Northern Lights Conference Northern Division play.
Perhaps the secret to Riddall's success is keeping it simple.
"I just ran down and put it in the net," he said.
Riddall, who now has four goals on the year, started the scoring when he got the ball at midfield and made a strong run right through the middle of Skyview's defense, beating goalie Bailey Jones.
The Bulldogs, now 1-3 overall, had the advantage of previous game experience this season. Skyview was playing its first game.
Panthers coach Brandon Goggia said there are certain things that only come with game experience. He said the gap in the middle of the defense that Riddall was exploiting in the first half was due to inexperience.
"We talked about that at halftime and fixed it," Goggia said.
In the 24th minute, Riddall exploited that gap again. This time Jones did well to get his hands on the ball, but the ball bounded toward the net and kicked over the goal line due to a wicked spin.
In the 30th minute, Riddall blocked an attempted clearance at the top of the box, controlled the ball and quickly drilled it past Jones.
"We had three games before this and we started out pretty crappy," Riddall said. "We came together today with some good passing."
Nikiski coach Jim Coburn also coached Riddall in middle school. He said Riddall tore his anterior cruciate ligament scoring a goal against Soldotna Middle School as a seventh-grader, and came back to be the team's best player as an eighth-grader.
"A 185-pound freshman is pretty rare," Coburn said. "He's very athletic and a very good finisher."
Coburn also lauded Riddall for his unselfishness.
"He had some good passes that would have been assists if they would have been finished," Coburn said.
Nikiski took a 4-0 lead in the first half when Logan Harrison headed in a corner kick from Doogun Seater. In the second half, the Bulldogs completed the scoring when Harrison headed down a throw-in from Seater to Seth Johnson, who one-timed the ball home.
Devan Berry, Joey Grant, Garrett Feller and Josh Croze helped Lincoln Johnson keep a clean sheet in net. Coburn said Seater anchored the midfield, and Seth Johnson also helped control the middle of the park.
Coburn also mentioned that Skyview looked much-improved from last season. Jones acquitted himself well in goal, while German foreign exchange student Martin Findler and Austin Craig played solid defense.
Findler left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Goggia said he hopes Findler will not miss much time with the knock.
"That was hard to have the first game of the season be a conference game," Goggia said. "That won't happen again. We won't lose a conference game by that many goals again."
Skyview girls 0, Nikiski 0
In Alaska prep soccer, looks can be deceiving. Just because snow was still rimming the field when this one kicked off does not mean there was not a lot at stake.
Skyview coach David Carpenter said he suspects Skyview, Nikiski and Homer will be in the thick of the fight to be one of the four teams from the six-team Southern Division to make the conference tournament.
"This is a huge game for us to start the season with," Carpenter said. "I have a feeling this will come back to haunt one of us."
If Nikiski or Skyview finds itself on the outside looking in come tourney time, missed opportunites Tuesday could be the reason why.
The Panthers started strong, getting the only two corner kicks of the first half and the half's best opportunity. With keeper Rachel Thompson out in the 14th minute, Skyview's Taylor Wilson rolled a slow ball across the open goal mouth, but no forwards were able to get there and put it in.
In the second half, Nikiski started to get the bulk of the chances after the 51st minute, when Bailey Buchholz moved back to replace Thompson in net, and Thompson moved to forward.
Thompson and Morgan Tschida then had combinations that led to four breakaways. Thompson and Tschida each missed the net on breakaways, while rock-solid keeper Dallas Derflinger stoned Thompson on two other breakaways.
"We just couldn't seem to get the ball in the back of the net," Nikiski coach Mandy Adair said of her squad, now 1-1-2 overall. "We had plenty of opportunities."
The best came in the 67th minute, when Tschida appeared to have Derflinger beat, but freshman defender Ciarra Mahan came back and cleared the ball out of trouble.
"She could have saved our season," Carpenter said.
Both coaches said that finishing early in the year is difficult.
"You are not shooting on a full-size goal in the gym," Adair said. "The speed of the ball also is so much slower on the field."
Adair said Sarah Hall was solid on defense, while Kiana Edgmon excelled in a move from defense to midfield.
Skyview forward Nicole Tromblee battled with Hall all day. Although Adair was happy with the play of Hall, Carpenter said Tromblee did a good job of getting to the corner and delivering some nice crosses.
Skyview plays at Houston on Thursday and at Palmer on Friday. Nikiski plays Houston on Friday and Grace Christian on Saturday.