The Kenai Central girls and boys soccer teams turned dominant midfield performances into Northern Lights Conference Southern Division victories Tuesday at Nikiski.
The Kenai girls topped the Bulldogs 2-0 to improve to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the league, while the Bulldogs fell to 2-3-2 and 0-1-1. In the boys game, the Kards rolled 5-1 to improve to 2-0-1 and 2-0. The Bulldogs are now 2-4-1 and 1-1.
In the girls game, the Kardinals put constant pressure on Nikiski. In the first half, Kenai had eight shots on net and Nikiski took four goal kicks to Kenai's two.
In the second half, Kenai had just two shots on net, but Nikiski took 14 goal kicks while Kenai took just one. The Bulldogs did not record a shot on goal in the game.
Taylor Ostrander started the scoring for Kenai in the 18th minute. She crossed the ball into the box, but it pinballed around and rolled back out to her. She took advantage by drilling a shot past Rachel Thompson.
Ostrander's shot appeared to many on the sideline to go in off a deflection, but Ostrander, who had the best view in the house, said the shot did not deflect off anybody before hitting the net.
"We tried to play the passing game," Ostrander said. "Nikiski was very aggressive in trying to take the ball away, so we tried to use give-and-gos and quick touches."
Just three minutes into the second half, Heidi Perkins got another shot past Thompson. This time, the ball did deflect off a Nikiski defender and into the net.
From that point on, the Kards continued to make the Bulldogs chase the ball in the midfield.
"We were wearing them out," said Ostrander, who patrolled the middle of the park with Chrisianna Garcia. "We were playing the passing game, and they were chasing us."
Nikiski coach Mandy Adair said Kenai's control of the midfield made it hard to attack.
"We weren't able to get up and help the forwards as much as we would like to," she said.
Adair and Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said that Nikiski's defense did a great job of standing up to all the pressure the Kards were mounting. Adair said Sarah Hall and Brittany Scott played well at outside defense.
"They both had a strong effort," she said. "They kept them from doing what they wanted to do."
Verkuilen said his team was not able to get many clean shots without a Nikiski player providing physical pressure.
"Their defense was just physical," Kenai forward Lauren Schams said. "There is no other way to put it."
Junior right midfielder Ericka Reynolds said the Kards will have to learn to solve physical defenses as the season goes on.
"We need to work on finishing more," she said. "All the corner kicks and crosses — we have to get a foot on those when they come across the goal."
Verkuilen also said his team's alignment had something to do with the trouble finishing. Instead of having three forwards up front, Kenai opted for two forwards and four midfielders in order to better control the midfield.
"You lose some opportunities without three forwards up front," the coach said.
Sydney Taylor had the shutout in goal for the Kardinals.
Kenai boys 5, Nikiski 1
The difference between the girls and boys game was that the Kenai boys were efficient in converting chances created in the midfield into goals.
The Kards put even more emphasis on the midfield than the girls, playing five in the midfield, two up front and three on defense.
"We wanted to pack the midfield," Kenai coach John Morton said.
Nikiski lost its first three games, according to coach Jim Coburn, due to giving up too much space in the midfield. Coburn said the Bulldogs did much better in their next three games, but Tuesday the Kards had plenty of room to build up attacks in the middle of the field.
"We did not transition well from offense to defense," Coburn said. "Kenai was athletic, ran hard and was organized.
"They pushed the ball and communicated better than we did. I feel like we still have room to improve."
Kenai forward Arthur Prado was all alone in the middle of the penalty area just seven minutes in, but he missed the chance.
That would not be the trend.
In the 10th minute, TJ Wagoner deftly chipped the ball from the midfield to Nathan Narlock, who finished with a solid left-footed strike to the far post from the top of the penalty area.
In the 20th minute, Narlock boomed a cross to Prado near the penalty spot. Prado one-timed the ball out of the air and placed it perfectly in the side of the net.
"We have some good finishers on this team," Morton said. "I'm not going to say I wasn't giddy on the sideline after that goal, but it wasn't a big surprise.
"They do it in practice. It was nice to see them do it in the game."
Just two minutes later, Prado's finishing touch was again evident when he controlled a through ball in the penalty area from Wagoner and scored.
In the 27th minute, Nikiski got on the board. Doogun Seater played a free kick to the far post to Logan Harrison, who used his head to blast the ball past Wren Norquist.
Just six minutes into the second half, Kenai went up 4-1 when Alex Springer played a through ball to Wagoner, who brought the ball down to the end line, then beat a defender and dribbled toward the top of the box until he had a good enough angle to beat Nikiski keeper Lincoln Johnson.
In the 49th minute, Kyle Scarlett completed the scoring on another through ball from Springer.
"Alex Springer had a really solid game in the midfield," Morton said.
The coach said defenders Scarlett, Josh McKee and Keegan Remsen did a great job of dealing with Nikiski's athletic forwards.
"They played direct," Morton said of the Bulldogs. "They tried to play a lot of long balls and our defense did a good job on handling that."
Soldotna girls 5, Homer 0
The Soldotna girls pulled out a win against Homer Tuesday, shutting out the Mariners.
“Homer didn’t have a whole lot of pressure,” said Soldotna coach Jimmy Love. “We were shooting the ball at the frame, at the net, testing the keeper.”
Soldotna recorded four of the five scores in the first half, as Emily Schneider, Natalie Kress and Miranda Wolfe each scored once. Wolfe scored the first goal.
Julie Litchfield found the back of the net twice to lead the Stars.
“We were moving the ball around more, and a couple of those shots were rebounds off the post, which could’ve been more scores for us,” Love said. “We just need to have the shots go our way sometimes.”
After the halftime break, coach Love decided to rest his starters, seeing as the team plays five games in a five-day stretch this week.
Soldotna will play Ketchikan at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, and Homer plays Ketchikan at 4 p.m.
Homer boys 4, Soldotna 1
The Mariners beat Soldotna Tuesday in Homer.
Homer scored in the early minutes of the game, but Soldotna’s Cameron Grothe evened the score with a shot on goal in the 25th minute.
However, Homer put the ball past goalkeeper Kayne North in the waning minutes of the first half, and Homer was able to score twice more in the second half, the final shot a penalty kick that essentially ended the game.
“Homer is one of the stronger teams this season, but our guys played well,” Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers said. “We were making adjustments, players were finding the right position, so we’ll be better.”
Soldotna plays Ketchikan at home Wednesday at 5:30 p.m, while Homer faces up against Hutchison at home at 6 p.m.