The 2013 prep soccer season finally kicked off on the Kenai Peninsula on Monday, giving teams two weeks to fit in home games before taking a brief break before the Northern Lights Conference tournament on May 16.
And the ball didn’t get rolling by much.
In order for the host Kenai Central girls to beat Nikiski 2-0 and the Bulldogs to notch a 1-0 victory in the boys game, all of Kenai’s players put in two hours Saturday and Sunday trying to make the field playable.
Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen said the coaches were probably out there 10 hours each day — pumping, snowblowing, chipping, doing whatever it took to turn a late-thawing field into a soccer pitch.
With an assist from windy, sunny weather over the weekend, which helped dry out the field, the coaches and players were able to pull it off.
“I would not have guessed we were going to play today,” Verkuilen said. “It worked out. The weather was perfect and we got it done, Lord willing. He must have wanted to watch a soccer game today.”
The Kenai girls improved to 2-1-1 overall and 1-0 in the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division, while the Nikiski girls are 1-3 and 0-1.
Jenna Calhoun had both of the goals for the Kardinals, while Allie Ostrander played a major role in setting up both tallies.
At the 38th minute, Ostrander got the ball at the corner of the penalty area and showed patience in beating a defender and carrying the ball to the end line. She then crossed to Calhoun, who tapped the ball in.
Then, 11 minutes into the second half, Ostrander carried the ball through the middle before playing it to Paula Ulreich, who found Calhoun in the middle for another sure finish.
Verkuilen said his team was playing the ball too wide in the first half and not taking advantage of opportunities in the middle. The Kards created a bunch of opportunities in the middle in the second half, but goalie Rachel Thompson stood tall.
“Rachel is unreal,” Verkuilen said of the sophomore. “How long have we been seeing this for now? She has great quickness and instincts.”
Seven minutes into the second half, Thompson turned away two quick shots on her doorstep. She would go on to turn away point-blank blasts from Logan Sternik, Ulreich and Calhoun.
Nikiski coach Mandy Adair had Thompson down for 21 saves. She also said her defense did a good job of giving Thompson the chance to make the save.
“The defense really stepped up,” Adair said. “They’re putting quality stuff together. They’ve really improved.”
The Nikiski coach said that in the first half, her squad was also able to create more offensive pressure than has been the norm in this short season.
Considering his team spent the weekend working on clearing fields, and not on soccer, Verkuilen also was happy with the way his defense was aggressive in shutting down the Nikiski attack. Stopper Cassie Ross, in particular, did well in that role.
In the boys game, Morgan Sauve provided the decisive strike in the 38th minute of the first half.
The ever-dangerous striker Christian Riddall started the pivotal sequence by hammering a ball to the left of goalie Wren Norwood. Norwood dove and blocked the shot, but Sauve pounced on the rebound and put it in the net.
Nikiski improved to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the Southern Division, while the Kards fall to 1-2-1 and 0-1.
“I think the two teams were really close,” Nikiski coach Jim Coburn said. “It was my favorite kind of game — a 1-0 game with strong defensive play.”
The Nikiski coach also said the game fit the template he laid out for this season.
“Coming into this season it was defense first and offense second,” Coburn said. “We try to stay in the game, then make the most of our opportunities on offense.
“Today, we had one goal on about five really good chances on goal.”
The Kards spent more time on Nikiski’s end — Kenai took nine corners in the game to Nikiski’s two, while the Bulldogs took 17 goal kicks and Kenai took six.
But the Nikiski defense did a good job limiting premium chances at the net of goalie Lincoln Johnson, and Riddall led several counterattacks which left just Norwood in front of him and the goal.
“He had 11 saves,” Coburn said of his goalie. “He bailed us out when we needed it.”
Kenai coach John Morton said his team has not practiced outside yet this year, and it showed. He said Kenai was allowing Nikiski too much space on defense and had trouble finishing.
“We could have scored the way they scored — crashing the goal after a shot,” Morton said.
He said defensive positioning and finishing are things the Kardinals can work on in practice.
The coach said Austin McKee had a solid game at center midfield, while TJ Wagoner and Simon Sandino also created a lot of opportunities.
Morton also was excited by the way Matt Morse played after a move from midfield to sweeper.