Kenai's Justin Wisniewski makes a save in front of teammate Devin Boyle in the second half Saturday at the Northern Lights Conference soccer tournament at Skyview High School.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Kenai Central High School boys soccer season ended with a heartbreaker in the third-place match at the Northern Lights Conference tournament Saturday at Skyview High School.
“I think we’ve put Wasilla out of the region tournament in three separate years, so it’s only fitting they had this opportunity,” said Kenai coach David Landry after the Kardinals fell to the Warriors by a score of 2-1.
The Kardinals led for most of the match after Dusty Ward connected on a rocket from 25 yards out in the 15th minute to the upper right corner of the Wasilla goal.
From that point on, Wasilla was able to possess the ball and keep it in Kenai’s end of the field, but the Kardinals’ back four of Jake Malanaphy, Brandon Goggia, Josh Werba and Devin Boyle did yeoman’s work in clearing away just about every ball played into the Kenai penalty area.
The Warriors tied the match in the 70th minute, when they were awarded a penalty kick. Kenai goalkeeper Justin Wisniewski made a diving save to stop the penalty shot, but Wasilla’s Jordan Ingalls was the first to the ball and knocked it in before Wisniewski could get back on his feet or a Kenai defender could get to it.
Kenai's Ju Kim and Wasilla's John Pahkala go after the ball in the second half Saturday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Wasilla continued to press and scored the game winner in the 80th minute. Wisniewski parried away another Wasilla shot, but Adam Friese was waiting all alone for the rebound.
The Kardinals pressed through nearly five minutes of stoppage time, but couldn’t get the equalizer.
“I’m just really excited for the kids,” said Wasilla coach Blake Livingston. “I think in the second half, we settled down and really controlled the match. We knew that Kenai was coming in as a quality team. They’re well coached, and they always work hard.”
The Warriors will be making their first trip to the state tournament after missing out for the past two years. Livingston said that his goalkeeper, Joe Hunter, had a stellar tournament he was called on to make several stops on quick Kenai counterattacks and added that his sweeper, Zach Bennett, played a solid match.
“Everything starts at the back with us,” Livingston said.
For the Kardinals, the loss will sting for a while, and the Kenai bench area was an emotional spot after the final whistle.
While Kenai will miss seniors Kyle Latz and Ju Kim, the silver lining in the loss, if there is one, is that a young Kardinals team will be another year more experienced and even hungrier come next year’s tournament.
“It gives us an idea that we have a chance for next year,” said Malanaphy.
“Although it’s heartbreaking, it’s encouraging, too,” added Ward.
Landry said he pointed out to his players that they wouldn’t be feeling badly on Saturday if they hadn’t played well enough to win on Friday. The big highs and the lows, Landry said, are part of the experience.
“The guys learned what it takes to win at this level. We belong here. I’m proud of my kids. They played hard front to back. They didn’t leave anything on the field,” Landry said. “... The boys will learn from this. They’ll get stronger from this. Hopefully, they’ll want it just a bit more next time.”
Colony boys 1, Palmer 0
The Colony Knights led a sweep of the Northern Lights Conference tournament by Mat-Su teams, defeating Palmer on Saturday for the NLC title at Skyview High School.
“The competition’s tough. I don’t look forward to maybe having to play (Palmer) next week” at the state tournament, Colony coach Jeremy Johnson said when asked if the tournament was getting tougher to win each year.
Colony goalkeeper Ian Walton said it was nice to beat Palmer to win the tournament after playing to a draw with the Moose in the regular season. Walton went on to praise his teammates for their work in front of him, making his job in goal a little easier.
Austin Manelick scored the only goal of the game 10 minutes into the second half on a direct kick from just outside the Palmer penalty area. Manelick kept his shot low and was able to curl it around the end of the Palmer wall and past the dive of goalkeeper Trent Berberich.
Manelick said he normally wouldn’t be taking that kick, but Bryan Tomlinson was out of the match with an injury. He said he was thinking about where to place a shot when he saw a hole open up.
Palmer’s best scoring bids came in the first half. A shot from 30 yards out had Walton beat in the 20th minute, but the ball rattled off the crossbar and was cleared away. Twelve minutes later, Colony’s sweeper cleared a ball off the goal line after Walton parried a Palmer shot.
“We had some nice chances in the first half, but we didn’t put together too many opportunities in the second half,” said Palmer coach Tom Harrison. “... I’m glad we made it to the championship game, but I was hoping to hang a banner. The only thing to do now is look forward and see what we can do at state.”
Harrison credited wing back Steel Tubbs with an outstanding game and said sweeper Jared Berberich played a solid match.
“We had to call on our subs a lot, and they stepped up and really helped out,” Harrison said.
The Knights also are looking forward to making some noise at the state tournament after finishing second last year.
“The Valley teams are getting stronger and stronger. It’s good to see. A lot of the Anchorage teams don’t see us as a challenge. Each year we’re stronger and stronger,” Walton said.
After winning the conference tournament, Manelick said the Knights had more goal left on their list winning a state title. Manelick said a large group of his fellow seniors had been playing together since they were freshmen, making the state tournament, which kicks off Wednesday in Anchorage, one heck of a place for a last hurrah.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” Manelick said.
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