Kenai coach John Morton decided to shake things up this week after starting the season slower than he wanted, and it paid off with a big 2-0 win over Soldotna on Saturday at the fields near Kenai Middle School.
Morton decided to move some players back in the defensive zone and strengthen that aspect of their game, and the team — along with some big saves from goalie Wren Norwood — shut out the Stars, improving the Kards’ record to 3-2-1 overall, and 2-1 in the Northern Lights Conference.
“We made some formation changes, we’ve been running the 3-5-2, and then decided to try bringing four back because we’ve been having issues with leaving space on the back side,” Morton said. “We’ve let guys put pressure on us and score, so we made that adjustment, and defensively it worked out well. We had two days to practice it, and even today, an hour before the game, I was questioning if it would work.”
Morton said player Nolan Scarlett helped him to reach that decision.
“SoHi has some very strong players, but that back line had some weaknesses today,” Morton said. “They had some misplayed balls and we took advantage of that.”
TJ Wagoner scored the game’s first goal in the 56th minute, when Soldotna goalkeeper Kayne North had trouble trying to retain the ball.
“TJ had a great game. He ended up pushing up and playing a 4-4-2, which worked out well for us,” Morton said.
Only two minutes after the first score, Trevor Shirnberg got a goal off a corner kick.
From there, it was all Kenai goalie Wren Norwood could do to stop SoHi’s advances. In total, Norwood stopped 14 shots on goal, while North stopped eight.
“He’s having a stellar year,” Morton said of Norwood. “Since last year, he was good as a freshman but he was a little more timid and not as quick off the line as he needed to be, and this year, he’s improved so much.”
Morton said even with the lead Kenai had, he wasn’t about to relax, especially as players like Cory Carver and Cameron Grothe continued to press Kenai’s defense.
“Even when we were up two, I was still nervous, because Carver’s just a good player, and they’re all good players, so we had to keep our guard,” Morton said.
Soldotna girls 2, Kenai 0
The Soldotna girls soccer squad battled its way through a physical match that featured four yellow cards to score a win over Kenai Central on Saturday afternoon at Kenai.
Kylee Wolfe and Julie Litchfield provided the goals for SoHi, which now hold a 5-0-1 record.
“This one is big because I think it’ll probably have some bigger implications in the conference seeding,” said Soldotna coach Jimmy Love.
Love said it a classic game between two of the top girls teams on the Kenai Peninsula, and the late yellow cards given out had the team on edge.
“I tell them to play aggressive but play cautiously aggressive,” Love said. “Had (the referee) started doing that in the first half I don’t think the yellow cards would’ve been an issue in the second half. He let it go a little too far and he adapted to what he had to do.”
The main issue the officials were carding was players attacking opponents from behind. Three Kenai players and one SoHi player were yellow-carded.
“I thought it was a very even game, I don’t think the score was really ... I mean, hey, they scored two goals,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “Two dead-ball plays basically in this game and obviously you don’t want to give those up.
“We had a lot of turns and looks at the net, but they just weren’t going in. I thought there were some nice buildups and both teams worked hard.”
Wolfe scored in the 24th minute on a cross from the right corner and was able to get a clean shot in the net.
In the 54th minute, Litchfield extended SoHi’s lead on a free kick taken about 30 meters out from the goal, arcing the ball up past the Kenai defenders.
However, Kenai continued to attack, and came close to closing the gap on the Stars in the 74th minute, when a Soldotna player fouled a Kenai player in the box, leading to a penalty kick. Jenna Calhoun’s shot soared above the crossbar.
“It was just an unfortunate thing, it could’ve put us right there and maybe we could’ve done something with it,” Verkuilen said.
Soldotna girls 8, Ketchikan 0
The Soldotna girls improved their record by winning in sloppy conditions at Soldotna on Friday in nonconference play.
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said there was standing water on a lot of the field due to showers Thursday and early Friday.
“With the way the field conditions were, play wasn’t as grand as we would have liked,” Love said. “The girls on both teams persevered. That probably says more about the girls than anything else.”
Love said a pass would either stop in a puddle or skip off a puddle, making stringing passes together impossible.
Natalie Kress, assisted by Kylee Wolfe and Skylar Shaw, scored just two minutes into the game. Wolfe scored unassisted at the 17-minute mark, and Kelci Benson, assisted by Juliet Bramante, scored before the close of the half.
The second half started with goals by Julie Litchfield, one assisted by Taryn McCubbins and the other by Wolfe. The last three goals were McCubbins from Shaw and Benson, Olivia Conradi from Benson and McCubbins, and Benson from Reagan Schoessler and Shaw.
The Stars girls travel to face Kenai at 5:15 p.m. Saturday.
Soldotna boys 1, Ketchikan boys 1
For the second straight game, the Kings were caught in stoppage time for the tie in nonconference play.
Two minutes into injury time, Cory Carver scored on a feed from Matti Silta to tie the game. On Thursday, Skyview had scored late to tie the Kings.
Ketchikan had taken the lead with a goal off a free kick in the first half.
“It was really sloppy, probably the most sloppy field I’ve seen,” said Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers, who has been coaching for over 10 years.
Siemers said he was happy his team was able to stay healthy heading into a 3:30 p.m. game at Kenai on Saturday.