Kenai Central senior Taylor Matson netted a hat trick Saturday to lead the Kardinals past visiting Northern Lights Conference rival Palmer 5-2.
The Moose cut Kenai's 3-0 halftime lead to one with two quick strikes in the second half. Shawna Thein scored on a long-range shot in the 47th minute. The ball hit the crossbar over the head of Kenai keeper Sydney Taylor and dropped just behind the goal line.
Junior varsity-varsity swing player Shanara Acker scored four minutes later. She sailed a kick past Taylor from the left side of the field.
Matson gave Kenai a two-goal cushion in the 61st minute. Deandra Latz sent a ball for Jenna Calhoun down the left side of the field. The ball rolled along the line and Palmer's defender stopped, thinking it would roll out. It didn't, giving Calhoun open field. Calhoun gave Matson a pass inside Palmer's box, and she knocked home her third goal of the game.
Kenai didn't panic after Palmer's two goals, Matson said.
"We just came out hard," she said. "We had to come back strong."
Kards head coach Dan Verkuilen knew Palmer's goals didn't faze his team by what he heard on the field.
"Their communication was positive," he said.
Lauren Schams sealed the victory with a goal in the 72nd minute. Calhoun threw a shot on net from the left. The ball tipped off of the hands of Palmer's keeper and Schams was there to bang in the rebound.
Playing together was key for Kenai's success, Matson said.
"We were working as a team today," she said.
"I was really pleased with our defensive play," Verkuilen said. "The girls did a nice job of getting crosses."
Palmer head coach Harmony Chadwick said Saturday's game was an improvement on Friday's 6-0 loss to Soldotna.
"They moved the ball so much better today," she said. "We just had some mental lapses, and Kenai took advantage."
The Kards jumped out to a quick lead, scoring two goals in the first seven minutes of the match. Calhoun struck first. She scored in the fifth minute. Matson tallied her first of the game two minutes later.
Matson added her second of the game in the 39th minute. Vanessa Anderson hooked a ball to the middle of the field. Matson won it and buried a shot top right for a 3-0 lead.
Having graduated 11 seniors from last year's squad, Kenai is inexperienced at the varsity level. But the team compensates for that lack of experience with a willingness to learn, Verkuilen said.
"Everything is coachable," he said. "It's the little things."
"We're a young team but we're fast and we're smart and we work as hard as we possibly can," Matson said.
Taylor, a freshman, was alert in net and recovered from the errors she did commit, Verkuilen said.
"I saw some improvement in her today," he said.
Kenai boys 1, Palmer 1
The Moose and Kardinals played to a draw Saturday at Kenai. While Kenai and Palmer each wanted a win, both sides settled with for the tie.
"I'll take the tie," Palmer head coach Kevin Dearborn said.
Saturday's game marked the third game in as many days for the Moose. It was the first nonloss of the season out of four games played for Palmer.
"We have a lot of soreness and tiredness," Dearborn said.
But every school has to deal with playing multiple games in a short span of time, so that wasn't an excuse, he said.
Kards head coach David Landry echoed Dearborn's sentiments.
"We'll have to be satisfied with a draw," he said.
Landry said his team had many chances but couldn't find the back of the net. Palmer keeper Douglas Chadwick was a major reason for that.
"Their keeper played very, very well," Landry said.
So, too, did Kenai's goalie Bryson Lowe. After falling behind 1-0 in the first half, Lowe made two saves in the 35th minute to keep the deficit at one. Lowe got his hands on a shot from Palmer's Zach Zegydryn then denied the rebound attempt. Three minutes later, Lowe blocked Sean Tanner's bid as he streaked up the middle. Lowe made the save and smothered the rebound.
"That's what a keeper does," Landry said. "He plays his entire box. That's where his strength lies."
The Moose held a 1-0 lead at the half courtesy of Daniel Burton. He slid a low shot in the right side of the goal in the 20th minute.
Kenai's Justin Calhoun tied the game in the 65th minute. Calhoun's tally came moments after a free kick turned into a prime scoring chance for Palmer.
The Kards missed taking the lead on two good opportunities late in the game. Three minutes after Calhoun's goal, Brady Perkins' cross attempt just missed catching the left goal post. Then Michael Morin put a ball just wide of the goal off of a Palmer giveaway near its own net.
In the 78th minute of the game, Palmer threatened to score. Lowe and Palmer's Piers LaFrance went for a lob near Kenai's net. The two collided in the midair. Lowe was given a red card, resulting in his ejection. LaFrance was issued a yellow card. After a lengthy discussion between the referees and team captains, a drop ball resulted.
Palmer had just two minutes to capitalize on Kenai playing a man down. Neither team could break the tie.
Dearborn said he was happy with the effort his team gave.
"They played 80 minutes of soccer," he said. "We're still taking steps forward."
Kenai, on the other hand, did not compete the full game, Landry said.
"We need 80 minutes of intensity," he said. "We didn't have that today."
AJ Ewing and Dom Eubank had good performances, Landry said. Nick Rouswell also played well, he said.
"He continues to impress," Landry said.
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