Soldotna co-head coach Mike Tovoli knew if somebody on Kenai was going to score, there was a good chance it would be Holly Perkins.
One of 12 juniors on the Kardinals, Perkins, who scored twice in a 6-1 win over Homer on Tuesday, transferred to Kenai after spending her first two years of high school at Soldotna.
"You're always worried about that when you've got players transferring," Tovoli said. "You're always worried about them coming back and scoring big on you, and it happens a lot. You see it all over sports."
It took Perkins all of four minutes to do just that. And Tovoli was happy for her.
He's just glad she didn't do it again.
Less than 10 minutes after Perkins staked visiting Kenai to a one-goal advantage, Soldotna sophomore Jenna Redford evened the score and added a second tally on a header in the opening minutes of the second half in leading the Stars to a surprising 2-1 victory in their Northern Lights Conference Southern Division opener on a chilly Thursday afternoon.
"To see her get one, not surprised. I knew it," Tovoli said of Perkins. "It was good. I was glad for her. She's a great girl.
"Very nice not to see her get another one," he added with a laugh.
Having not played in more than a week, and sporting a youthful roster after losing nine or 10 seniors to graduation, Soldotna (2-0 overall, 1-0 NLC South) is now hoping to build off this win in what has become a weather-shortened season.
"Regions is what, like two weeks away, or something like that?" Tovoli joked. "It will give them confidence but there's still a lot of work to be done. We are far from where we need to be. All teams will be growing immensely in the next two weeks. This is just a building stone to where we want to be. Lots of soccer to be played in these short two weeks.
"It was huge growth (Thursday). I can't remember the last time we beat Kenai," he added. "It was a great confidence booster, but like I said, it's a small step toward the ultimate goal, and that's regions and to go to state."
Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen, whose team is now 2-1 and 1-1, said he noticed his team was lacking energy after beating the Mariners on Tuesday.
"We're just not in shape for the season yet," he said. "(Thursday) I really saw us not moving so quick to the ball and just there was a lot of times where they beat us to the ball. And they're a fast team. So, it's not like we weren't trying, but I could see the difference between the Homer game and that just in foot speed.
"It's there, I just think their legs were a little heavy. But we'll have to work on that, just the conditioning of the game shape," Verkuilen added. "It was tough because we haven't had any games. So, we're just kind of getting used to that."
Perkins is certainly getting acclimated to finding the back of the net.
Just three or four minutes into the contest, the junior corralled a pass inside Soldotna's box and as Stars goaltender Rebecca Satathite shifted to Perkins' side, the forward rolled the ball into the opposite corner for an early edge.
But Redford answered, poking the ball past Kenai goalie Lacie Wortham off a Karen Senette corner kick in the 11th minute.
"It was one of those things where I worried about them getting down after a quick score, but they showed a lot of adversity in coming back and not letting that get them down," Tovoli said. "And I was very proud of their efforts after that, keeping their heads up and working hard. I knew we could maybe get one in. I just didn't know when it was going to happen, and I'm glad they kept their hopes up and kept working."
Knotted at one at halftime, Senette, positioned in the lower left corner, sent an arcing cross into the box and into the hands of a leaping Wortham. But the ball somehow eluded the goalie's grasp and Redford was perfectly aligned to head in the eventual game-winner.
"She had a good play on it. She stretched out pretty good for it and it just slipped out," Verkuilen said of Wortham. "And the other goal the same way, just some weird situation. They were there to capitalize. That's the way it goes."
Not knowing what to expect in the teams' only meeting of the regular season, Tovoli couldn't have asked for a better ending.
"It was a great test for us," he said. "It's still early in the season. Both teams haven't been out on the field much. It was just a quality win against a quality opponent."
Soldotna boys 0, Kenai 0
After the Stars eliminated the Kardinals from last season's state tournament with a 3-2 shootout victory in Anchorage, the crosstown rivals picked up exactly where they left off.
An extremely physical game with a state-tournament atmosphere showcased one of the best forwards and one of the top goalkeepers in the state, yet neither team could find the back of the net.
And not meeting again in the regular season, both coaches wouldn't mind a rematch in the NLC tournament. Or better yet, at state.
"I'd like to beat them in the championship game in the region and then maybe play them in the championship game at state," said Kenai coach David Landry. "Wouldn't that be just sweet to have the southern conference do something like that? And I think this could be a year when we could put two out of the three again like we did last year."
Soldotna sophomore Blaine Carver, who netted 22 goals as a freshman and had four in two games entering Tuesday's contest, was never allowed a clean shot. Every time he touched the ball, two or three Kardinals collapsed on him, often dismissing the play.
"Blaine Carver's a good little player," Landry said. "We didn't have anybody out there marking him, but we just want people to be aware of where he is once he's in there. At the same time, you can't lose sight of everybody else out there."
Carver's best chance came within the first two minutes of the second half, when the speedy forward raced Kenai goaltender Justin Wisniewski to a ball that landed in the box off a SoHi direct kick. Trying to place it over Wisniewski, Carver blasted it over the crossbar as well.
"He will be (marked) for the rest of his high school career. But he had some good opportunities and some good turns, just didn't just put any in the goal," Stars coach Jeff Siemers said. "As he grows and works as a player now that's he's going to be marked harder and have a double-team, it's going to be important for the other guys to step up and create as well."
On Kenai's side, Wisniewski kept the Kardinals (1-0-2, 1-0-1) in the game during a second half that often displayed Soldotna's offensive prowess.
With under 10 minutes remaining in the scoreless game, Matt Grubb rifled a shot from well beyond the 18-yard line, but Wisniewski, in full extension to his right, made a spectacular diving save in preserving the tie.
"That's the all-state kind of keeper that he really is," Landry said.
Soldotna (2-0-1, 0-0-1) had more opportunities in injury time, the best being a solid shot by Jeff Mullen that sailed wide, but just couldn't capitalize.
"It was really intense and a lot of fun," Siemers said. "I just wish we would have been able to put some of our opportunities away.
"Of course we wanted to come out ahead," he added, "but it still works."
Kenai had its chances, too, including a shot by freshman Codi Woodcock that hit the post in the fourth minute of action and a shot off a strong Woodcock cross in the 65th minute, but like Wisniewski, Soldotna goaltender Daniel Geller stood tall.
However, the junior goalie did leave the game after injuring himself while denying Woodcock's late cross.
"He got kicked in the head on a really good save and saved us," Siemers said.
After an early setback to the Stars last season, Landry isn't complaining about the tie.
"Last year at this time, we got blown out by these guys. I think it was 6-1," he recalled. "This year the guys came to play."
Homer girls 4, Nikiski 1
The Mariners notched a Southern Division victory over the host Bulldogs on Thursday.
Nikiski's lone goal came from Eliza Chadwick in the second half.
Nikiski coach Tom Bennett also said goalie Angie Parrish and defenders Lacey Carlson, Alysha Danielson, Catlin Johnson and Maddie Ralston had solid games.
In the boys game, Homer collected a 3-2 victory.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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