The Nikiski boys soccer team surprised some people by winning the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division regular-season championship last season.
The Bulldogs wasted little time proving they are ready to defend their crown.
Logan Harrison took a left-to-right cross from Ari Bennett in the 48th minute for the lone goal in a 1-0 win at Kenai Central on Tuesday evening. The Kards notched a 5-0 win in the girls game.
For the senior class of the Nikiski boys, Tuesday marked the first win against Kenai Central. The squads played to a tie in 2010.
"It's a big deal for them," Nikiski coach Jim Coburn said. "Kenai is skilled. They always come out with a good team. It was eating at the kids a little bit."
On a night when the defenses played well but the attacks from both sides were sporadic, the Bulldogs did just enough to improve to 2-2 on the season.
Kaden Spurgeon, a first-year goalkeeper, notched his second shutout in as many games for Nikiski. The Kards had a few chances late in the game, but Spurgeon made saves when it mattered most.
After a scoreless first half, Harrison gave Nikiski all it needed when he kept control of the ball in traffic off Bennett's cross, tapping it to his feet with his head and nudging it into the back of the net.
"I was hauling in (toward the goal)," Harrison said. "I just headed and kicked it, got it to my feet and finished."
Nikiski received a solid effort on the back line from sweeper Sam Taylor, nicknamed "State Farm." Taylor thwarted most of the Kards' scoring chances.
For Kenai Central, which managed one corner kick to the Bulldogs' seven, the loss showed that the Kards must show up every game if they hope to remain competitive in the NLC.
It was the first game of the season for the Kards, but it was the fourth for the Bulldogs.
"They won all the 50-50 balls and they were the first to the plays on all that junk," Kenai Central coach David Landry said. "They were more aggressive, they had the better part of the play. They just played with more heart than we did. You could see that from the sideline."
Kenai Central faces Skyview on the road at 6 p.m. Thursday, while Nikiski is on the road against Colony, Wasilla and Palmer for three straight.
Kenai Central girls 5, Nikiski 0
Despite a rainstorm in the first half, the goals kept pouring in for the Kenai Central girls soccer team.
Jenna Calhoun finished with a hat trick and an assist, Lauren Schams and Taylor Ostrander had a goal apiece, and Annie Azzara and Katherine O'Reilly added assists as the Kards defeated Nikiski. The Bulldogs dropped to 0-3.
"We were just kind of hoping to find some chemistry," Kenai Central coach Dan Verkuilen said. "We weren't sure, with a lot of young players. We wanted to see who worked well with each other."
An early goal and a key save gave the Kards all the momentum they needed.
Schams found the back of the net in the fourth minute and goalkeeper Sydney Taylor extended her arms to block a high-arching shot a few minutes later, putting Kenai Central in control.
Controlling the middle third of the field, the Kards generated most of their offense with crosses into the box from the right wing.
After Ostrander scored unassisted to give Kenai Central a 2-0 lead at halftime, Calhoun took over.
She made it 3-0 early in the second after Nikiski keeper Angie Parrish misplayed a ball in front of the goal. About five minutes later, Azzara took a through ball and beat two defenders on the left wing, dribbled inside the 18-yard marker and fired a cross to Calhoun, who finished.
The sophomore completed the hat trick in the 67th minute.
Verkuilen said the Kards' offense found a rhythm when their defense began to settle into the flow of the game.
"We didn't do much from the defensive side of the ball at the start, but then we got the ball moving around and started to build," he said. "There was some good speed on the wings and some nice balls outside and they realized they could make some good crosses."
Parrish, a captain, was peppered all afternoon. The Kards possessed the ball on the Bulldogs' half of the field for the majority of the game, wearing down the Nikiski back line.
"They were hungry for it and they were picking up garbage," Parrish said.
It didn't help that the ball was slick thanks to a steady rainfall through the first 40 minutes.
"It's a lot harder for us to get a grip, and slippingwise it really takes it out of us," Parrish added.
Kenai Central visits Skyview at 4 p.m. Thursday. Nikiski is on the road for the next three games, visiting Palmer, Wasilla and Colony.
Soldotna girls 4, Grace Christian 0
Freshmen Julie Litchfield and Kylee Wolfe scored two goals apiece and the Soldotna girls soccer team defeated Grace Christian on the road Tuesday.
It was the first game of the season for the Stars, who took a 1-0 lead into halftime on Litchfield's first strike and added three scores over the final 40 minutes. Two of the goals came on set plays.
"What was nice was to see the juniors and seniors working well with the younger class," SoHi coach Mike Tovoli said. "We worked well as a team and looked pretty good."
SoHi hosts Seward at 3:30 p.m. today.
Grace Christian boys 4, Soldotna 0
With six underclassmen in the starting lineup, the Soldotna boys soccer team opened its season with a loss at Grace Christian.
Grace scored twice in the first half and as many times in the second, earning the shutout win.
SoHi coach Jeff Siemers said there were good moments, but said the Stars have a long way to go. Grace controlled possession of the ball, the coach added, and was the more experienced squad.
"We are trying to build some chemistry," Siemers said, adding it was SoHi's first game on a full field after practicing in a gymnasium for the past couple weeks. "It's a building process."
SoHi hosts Seward at 5:30 p.m. today.
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