The Kenai Central High School girls soccer team did it just like coach Dan Verkuilen drew it up in practice Thursday afternoon.
The Kardinals, facing Region III opponent Palmer, were able to put together a beautiful sequence of passes and finish things off with a goal to beat the Moose 2-1 at Kenai.
The Kenai boys were able to get things started on the wings, but the Kardinals had trouble pulling the trigger in the attacking zone and suffered their first loss of the season, 2-0, to the visiting Moose.
Karli Knudsen scored what proved to be the match winner for the 4-1-0 Kenai girls with nine minutes left in the first half. The scoring sequence started on the Kardinals right wing, culminating with a ball played into the box for speedy forward Jessi Reilly. Reilly laid the ball off for Knudsen, who was streaking in from the left wing and made a perfect one-touch shot for the goal.
"That was nice," Verkuilen said of the goal. "It's just like you do it in practice. Man, that's what it's supposed to be."
"We just work on kicking the ball in front of the goal and getting a touch on it," Knudsen said. "Natalie (Mills) is really fast on the wing. We work on getting it out to her. Jessi and Jamie (Montgomery) are always there in the middle. Rachel Knowles is really quick, too."
Knowles netted the Kardinals' first goal of the match 19 minutes in, scoring on a corner kick.
Palmer, now 4-2-1, netted its only goal with four minutes left in the first half when Emily Sakis got to a rebound of a shot parried off the crossbar by Kenai goalkeeper Wendi Wiles.
"It was one of those bouncing goals -- we'll take it," said Palmer girls coach Brian Fish. "I think that Kenai played well today. Both teams had some good bounces and some bad bounces. The opportunities were there for both teams. Even today, I thought we played well enough to win."
The Moose certainly had some golden opportunities through the second half, but Wiles was able to make several good stops and Kenai's defensive quartet of sweeper Kirsten Ehrhardt, stopper Nicole Spence and wing backs Rachael Popp and Janna Krein cleared several balls off their own goal line.
"Wendi Wiles did a heck of a job in goal, and the defense was really solid," Verkuilen said, noting that Spence did a good job shutting down Palmer's Tami Callison, arguably one of the best players in the state.
"The kids are building confidence in the defense, and that allows everyone else to stay in their own positions. There was tons of individual effort, and as a team, we're coming together."
Verkuilen also was pleased with the players he brought in off the bench, particularly with Holly McCune, who provided a spark for the Kardinals at outside midfield.
The Kenai boys (3-1-1) did well to work the ball out of the back, but shots were hard to come by once the Kardinals gained Palmer's defensive third of the field.
"There was a little hesitation. We were all wanting that perfect shot," said Kenai sweeper Wally Ward. "We just need to lock and load and get some shots off."
Palmer's Kurtis Arcala converted his penalty kick for the first goal of the match in the 21st minute. Travis Rapp made it 2-0 10 minutes later, getting a foot on a loose ball in front of the goal after Kenai keeper Eric Nyce knocked down Rapp's initial shot.
"This is a turning point for our season," said Palmer boys coach Don Berberich of his 6-1-0 Moose. "We had seen some brilliant play, and we have some superb players, so we knew we had to potential to play good soccer. Before we came down here, we challenged them to step up for the rest of the season."
The Moose appeared to be up for their coach's challenge, and Arcala dictated the pace of play in the midfield through much of the match. Palmer's defense assured keeper Chris Abbott a shutout in his first varsity match.
Kenai's best attacking chances came from the flanks, particularly when wing backs Marcus Webster and Cory Janson were able to work the ball forward.
"We've played together quite a bit," Ward said of his mates on defense. "We're comfortable with each other and we've got good midfield support. We get a lot more offense generated when we can use our wings to work the ball up. With most teams, it's an automatic clear out of bounds, but we can create some offense from our defense."
Kenai had just a few scoring threats, though, and those shots the Kardinals did get off often drifted high or wide of the mark.
Palmer continues its road trip with matches today at Soldotna (girls at 4 p.m., boys at 6 p.m.) and Saturday at Skyview (3:30 p.m., 5:15 p.m.). The Kardinals host Wasilla today (3 p.m. and 5 p.m.) and Homer Saturday (noon, 2 p.m.).
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