Arvada, CO — The Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club’s Under-15 Riptide Girls stunned coaches and players alike with a 1-0 quarterfinal win at the President’s Cup Invitational Tournament in Denver last weekend, defeating Arsenal FC White of Southern California, a team ranked 350 spots higher than the Peninsula team by club soccer websites.
“Alaska teams rarely even make it out of group play,” said Coach Paul Ostrander, “let alone actually win an elimination game. The fact that we beat a team representing Southern California is even more incredible. It’s a historic win for KPSC soccer.”
The Riptide Girls, who earned a place in the Denver tourney with a 2nd place finish at the Alaska State Cup last fall, narrowly made it out of the group stage with only two points off of two ties. Their slightly superior goal differential pushed them past a three-way tie with teams from Arizona and northern California, setting them up for their quarterfinal showdown.
The match started out well for the Riptide, who surprised the California side with their aggressive formation and style of play. The gamble paid off in the 10th minute, when striker Heidi Perkins pressured Arsenal’s defense into a mistake, collected the ball and touched it over to Skylar Shaw, who blasted a left-footed shot into the net from 12 yards out.
Shaw, who directs most of Riptide’s set pieces, had two assists off of corner kicks in the tournament as well as the crucial quarterfinal goal. “It was once in a lifetime,” she said. “Amazing to realize a team from the Kenai Peninsula can compete against top teams from down in the States... And there’s no one who plays with more heart and soul than Riptide.”
But the game took a troubling turn in the second half for Kenai when the Arsenal midfield lofted a ball behind Riptide’s defense to a fast-moving striker, resulting in a catastrophic collision with goalkeeper Rachel Thompson, who had to be taken from the field on a medical cart afterward. Her effort, though, forced the Arsenal shot to skip off the outside of the post and out of bounds.
“It definitely saved a goal,” said assistant coach Joel Reemtsma. “There’s no question in my mind that her sacrifice kept us in it.”
“I was just thinking, ‘I’ve got to stop her, the tournament is on the line,” said Thompson, who was the Player of the Year for Alaska High School Soccer’s Northern Lights Conference this past season.
The injury handed goalkeeping duties to Alli Steinbeck, playing up from KPSC’s U14 girls in order to fill out Riptide’s tournament roster.
Steinbeck proved more than capable, holding the shut-out for the majority of the second half. “I had confidence in Alli,” said Thompson, “I knew she could handle it.”
Still, it wasn’t easy. “The onslaught that last 20 minutes was unbelievable,” said Coach Ostrander. “California could not believe they were going to lose that game. Allie was very tough in the net.”
Arsenal pounded the ball into the Riptide box time and again, but the Alaska side matched each attack with equally powerful defensive play.
“We didn’t come all this way not to give all we had,” said midfielder Allie Ostrander.
Coach Ostrander cited his defensive three, Kylie Morse, Paytience Burnett and Alex Ashe for especially heroic play. “Our defensive effort was tremendous that last part of the game. At times we had our entire midfield in the box as well.”
Even striker Taylor Wilson, who scored Riptide’s first goal of the tournament, sprinted all the way back to the net to head the ball out of danger.
Midfielders Taryn McCubbins, Hannah Drury, Ciarra Mahan, Cori Holmes and Sarah Every also took part in the action, as did striker Darby Milburn. “Every one of us contributed,” said Coach Ostrander.
When the final whistle sounded, players, fans and coaches rushed the field to celebrate the victory.
“We’re so proud of the girls,” said assistant coach Jack Shaw.
The Riptide lost the subsequent semi-final game to the home side Colorado United 3-1, with the Alaska team’s lone goal coming off a crushing header by midfielder Taryn McCubbins.
Despite the loss, Riptide players and coaches were all pleased with their achievement at the Denver Tournament.
“We did what we came here to do,” said Riptide defender/striker Emmalee Johnson.
Alex Ashe agreed, “We came in third, but we very well could have won the whole thing.”
Strategy played a major part of Riptide’s success.
“We have a great group of coaches,” said Ostrander, referring to assistants Reemtsma, Jack Shaw and Wally Ward. “We’re able to scout other teams pretty effectively, and we spend a great deal of time discussing tactics.”
“It really helped bringing the girls down a few days early to get used to 90-degree heat and 6,000 feet of elevation,” said Ward. “We were worried about their fitness, but we actually dominated the final phase of several games.
“The Riptide proved that they possess all of the tools required to compete at an elite level of soccer,” he added.
“We’re just so proud of the girls,” said assistant coach Shaw. “Their defensive success is a credit to their heart and determination. Moving toward State this fall, we are going to work on scoring some goals.”
The Alaska Youth Soccer Association State Cup will be held on the Kenai Peninsula this fall at the KPSC fields on the Spur Highway north of Kenai, beginning August 2nd.