The Kenai Central High School boys and girls soccer teams have started a tradition.
The Kardinals will be making repeat trips to the Alaska School Activities Association State Soccer Championships, having survived the rigors of three matches in two days at the Region III Championships hosted by Houston High School.
The Kenai girls defeated Soldotna in the first round and beat Palmer in the second round before falling to Colony 3-1 Saturday in a contest for the region title.
"We had eight new starters out of 11 at the beginning of the year," Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen said. "This is an incredible job by these girls. They basically built a new team in three or four weeks of play."
The Knights had a 2-0 lead in the championship before Jessi Reilly beat three defenders, then drilled a shot past the goalie to cut the gap to 2-1.
"It was awesome," Verkuilen said. "I'm going to try and get a video of that and show it at the banquet. That's typical of what she did for the team this year."
Reilly was named first-team all region along with Jamie Montgomery. Nabbing second-team honors were Rachel Popp and Kirsten Ehrhardt, while Nicole Spence got a sportsmanship award.
Verkuilen also said there were other deserving candidates on his team, such as goalie Wendi Wiles and forward Karli Knudsen.
While the story of the Kenai girls is impressive, it would take a whole lot more than that to top the seemingly scripted run the Kenai boys, or the "Kardiac Kards" as coach David Landry likes to call them, made through the tournament.
In the opening round, the Kardinals were trailing Soldotna 1-0 before scoring with about two minutes left in regulation to force overtime. J.D. Pault scored for match-winner for Kenai in the second 10-minute overtime session on an assist from Bruno Calfa.
Just six hours later, the Kardinals had to take the field against Colony, the defending state champs. The teams went through regulation, two 10-minute overtime periods and two five-minute, sudden-death overtime periods without scoring.
After 9 p.m., Colony finally ended the contest when it prevailed 3-0 in a penalty kick shootout.
About 13 hours later, Kenai had to get up and face Wasilla in the third-place match. Winner goes to state, while the loser goes home. Wasilla, which sat atop the region standings for most of the year, was up 2-1 with one minute left when Calfa, who had scored Kenai's first goal, was taken down in the box and converted his penalty kick.
In the second 10-minute overtime period, Calfa found Carlos Carreon 12 yards in front of the goal. Carreon collected the ball and pounded the match-winner into the back of the net.
"It took three overtimes, but for the second year in a row we took third place in the region, and for the second year in a row, we earned a berth to state," Landry said. "I couldn't be happier."
Landry said a key factor in the overtime win over Wasilla was getting 10 minutes each half from a group of backups that included Ben Haring, Charlie Wiles, Ryan Whiteley and Devon Anderson.
"That 20 minutes was the key to us having the energy to force the play in the 20 minutes of overtime," Landry said. "This was truly a team effort."
Earning first-team all-region honors for Kenai were Calfa, goalie Eric Nyce, Carreon, Greg Landua and Wally Ward. Marcus Webster made the second team.
Landry and Verkuilen also hailed the support they received from the parents of the team members.
"They were the ones responsible for doing things for the kids so they could stay off their feet and conserve energy," Landry said. "I absolutely can't say enough about the support people in Kenai have given our soccer program."
In Friday's semifinals, the Kenai girls defeated Palmer 2-1 while the Colony girls beat Wasilla 4-1.
In the boys semifinals, Colony beat Kenai in a shootout 1-0 while Palmer downed Wasilla 1-0.
Jamie Montgomery and Jessi Reilly scored goals a minute apart to propel the Kenai girls to a semifinal win over Palmer.
Montgomery notched her goal in the 64th minute while Reilly followed up in the 65th minute. Natalie Mills assisted on Reilly's goal.
Richelle Knapp put Palmer on the board with a penalty kick in the 69th minute, but the Moose could not find the equalizer.
In Friday's boys quarterfinal round, Wasilla defeated Nikiski 5-0, Kenai edged Soldotna 2-1 in overtime, Colony beat Skyview 4-0 and Palmer eliminated Homer 2-0.
In the Kenai-Soldotna match, the Stars went up 1-0 on a goal by Mike McIntosh before Kenai staged its dramatic overtime comeback.
"Kenai has that experience thing," Soldotna coach John Bramante said. "That's vital -- the experience of adversity in tournament play.
"They know how to pull out a win when the chips are down. I wish we had that. I wish our boys could feel and understand that."
In Friday's girls quarterfinal round, Colony defeated Nikiski 4-0, Palmer edged Skyview 1-0, Kenai beat Soldotna 3-1 and Wasilla downed Homer 2-1 in a shootout.
In the Wasilla-Homer match, Fianna Condon's goal with five minutes left in regulation sent the Homer girls to overtime with the Wasilla Warriors.
Neither team was able to score during the overtime period, but the Warriors edged the Mariners 3-2 in the shootout. Condon and Syverine Abrahamson netted the shootout goals for the Mariners.
In the Palmer-Skyview match, Palmer scored the only goal of its match against the Skyview girls six minutes into the game, and the Panthers were able to generate some good attacks late in the match.
"Palmer's a quality team, and they dictated the flow of the game," Skyview girls coach Tony Lewis said. "We kept hanging in there and hanging in there and we had some chances to tie late in the game.
"We had some good chances that just didn't materialize."
Lewis credited Jamie Beever with a solid match at stopper and Katie Verba at forward.
April Friedly had a good bid for the Panthers with 20 minutes to play on a volley that beat the Palmer keeper but went wide of the net, and Verba took a pass from Marina Holt but couldn't beat the keeper in a one-on-one situation with 10 minutes to play.
In the Kenai-Soldotna match, the Kardinals got their scoring from Montgomery on an assist from Reilly, Reilly on a breakaway and Knudsen on an assist from Reilly.
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