Preserving a shutout in goal is a difficult thing to do as a soccer goalie.
Doing it at a state tournament against a team that has vengeance on its mind? That’s another level up.
Kenai Central sophomore Alli Steinbeck managed to do just that against Wasilla in Thursday’s opening game of the Alaska School Activities Association state soccer tournament at Eagle River High School.
The Kardinals topped the Warriors 2-0 to move on to Friday’s semifinals against Service at 1 p.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium.
“I knew it was going to be a tight game and that I had to be on my A game,” Steinbeck said. “Today my defense really helped me get the shutout.”
It was the third time in as many games this year that Kenai has beaten Wasilla.
“We had to come out knowing that they wanted to beat us,” Steinbeck added.
Steinbeck credited Kenai’s line of defense for the shutout. That includes sophomore Kylie Morse, senior (and sister) Caitlin Steinbeck and juniors Jamie Bagley and Heidi Perkins.
“At the end of the game, I was definitely getting nervous when I saw our team start to slow down,” Steinbeck said. “But we picked it back up and kept our shutout.
“I was definitely really nervous going into the game knowing they were coming at me.”
After beating Wasilla in the regular season, Kenai ousted the Warriors from last week’s Northern Lights Conference tournament semifinals in a 2-1 match, sending Wasilla to the third-place game.
It was perfectly clear from the outset that Wasilla wanted to beat Kenai when it mattered most.
Barely 20 minutes went by before junior Allie Ostrander, fresh off a record-breaking weekend at the state track meet, was hit with a leg injury. By the end of the game, several other players limped off to the sidelines with minor injuries, making it clear the desperation the players were feeling. All players recovered without further assistance.
“Anytime you score a goal in a state match, it’s gonna cause urgency by the other team,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “Goals don’t come easy at state.”
A Wasilla defender was charged with a handball in the goalie box in the 35th minute, and Cori Holmes was chosen to take the penalty kick. Holmes converted successfully with a shot to the right corner, putting the Kardinals up 1-0.
Seven minutes into the second half, Caitlin Steinbeck sent a big shot toward Wasilla goalie Victoria Runyon, who saved it initially but bounced it back out to the waiting clutches of Hannah Drury, who sent it right back and into the net.
“The development of that PK was really sharp, and I liked seeing that,” Verkuilen said. “We got that nice outside movement and that nice ball coming in, and we had players there.”
Overall, Kenai ended the match with nine shots on goal, while Wasilla managed seven. Verkuilen praised the midfield prowess of a number of his players, particularly Heidi Perkins.
“We knew that we had to really keep ahold of the midfield, and (Perkins) did an amazing job of filling that space,” Verkuilen said. “She did a perfect job of keeping that middle free.”
Soldotna girls 3,
The Soldotna girls made sure of a trip to the Alaska School Activities Association state soccer semifinals by scoring early and cruising to a 3-0 win over Lathrop on Thursday at Eagle River High School.
Facing a Malamutes team that they knew nothing about, the Stars got a pair of goals in the first seven minutes from Kylee Wolfe and Olivia Conradi that helped to set the pace the rest of the game. Skylar Shaw added an insurance goal midway through the second half.
“It’s always good to get the first one under your belt,” said Soldotna coach Jimmy Love, breathing a sigh of relief.
The win put SoHi through to the state semifinals on Friday with a match against South Anchorage at 5 p.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium.
“We won’t change how we play,” Love said ahead of Friday’s match. “I don’t think you can change the way you play based on your opponent. We might make small tweaks and adjustments, but we won’t be changing anything else.”
Last year, SoHi began its state tournament with a 3-0 win over Grace Christian, but lost to eventual champion Dimond in the semifinal round. Thursday, Dimond already found itself knocked out with a 2-1 overtime loss to Service.
Soldotna will be needing a complete team effort against No. 1-seeded South to clinch a state championship game berth. The Stars made sure the competition knew they weren’t messing around Thursday.
Five minutes in, Wolfe wrangled the ball from a Lathrop defender and ripped it past goalie Makayla Triplehorn from 20 yards out for the first goal of the game.
“I think it kind of settles everybody’s nerves and the girls tend to settle down and play their style of the game,” Love said. “But it definitely makes a huge difference.”
Two minutes later, Conradi took an assist from Skylar Shaw and sent a similar strike out that had Triplehorn second-guessing where the ball was going to land.
Love said the early goals from two of the Stars’ leading scorers showed that SoHi is playing the style of game that got them here.
“I don’t think it matters who puts the ball in the net, but they just play better being up,” Love said. “We’ll have to see how to adjust our style if we’re behind.”
At halftime, Soldotna held an 8-0 shots on goal advantage, and had taken three corner kicks to Lathrop’s zero.
“One thing I think we suffered from in Fairbanks that the rest of the state has picked up on is speed of play,” said Lathrop coach Daniel Gibson. “Right off the bat, just off the ball movement, the speed of play kind of smacked us in the mouth.”
As the second half began and the minutes ticked down, the physicality continued to pick up and Lathrop attempted to rally back with increasing success on downfield charges.
However, the Stars answered back with a goal from Shaw in the 65th minute, getting help from Kelci Benson as the ball clattered around in the goalie box to extinguish Lathrop’s hopes.
“I told them that they need to get that third goal,” Love said. “(Lathrop) were moving the ball really well and we were kind of watching in my opinion. I think we were letting them do what they would normally do, and we were reacting to them.”