The Kenai Central High School girls soccer team didn't want its season to end with a heartbreaker.
After dropping a 3-1 decision in Friday's semifinal against Palmer, the Kardinals rallied to beat Homer 4-0 in Saturday's third-place game, securing a trip to next weekend's ASAA State Championships.
"We needed this game to get our spirits back up as a team," said Kenai's Jessi Reilly. "It was a really good game for us."
In fact, the Kardinals put together a stellar effort.
"They pretty much dominated," said Homer coach Harry Rasmussen. "They had way too much team speed, and they really shut us down defensively.
"They really rose to the occasion."
Jamie Montgomery netted the first Kenai goal early in the first half, taking a direct kick from just outside the Homer penalty area and launching a shot that just grazed the bottom of the crossbar on its way to the back of the net.
The Kardinals built on their 1-0 halftime lead in the second half, creating opportunities with quick counterattacks and speed up front from Reilly, Cory Hershberger and Katherine Amen.
Hershberger put the Kardinals up 2-0 in the second half, leading a partial break up the right wing. After sidestepping a Homer defender along the edge of the Homer penalty area, Hershberger roofed a wide-angled shot, getting the ricochet off the bottom of the crossbar and into the goal.
Hershberger found herself in a similar position later in the half but instead opted to cross the ball to the other side of the penalty area, where Amen finished the play off nicely for a 3-0 Kenai lead.
Reilly scored the final Kenai goal of the match, following up a hard shot by Karli Knudsen to touch home a rebound that Homer keeper Jazzi Fry couldn't quite smother.
"Kenai has some awesome players," said Homer's Sydney Schoepke. "As a team we didn't have it. Our communication was good today, our heart was there, everybody kept a really good attitude."
"I think we just had a hard time getting going," Fry said.
While Kenai's strikers were able to keep the pressure on up front, with plenty of support from Montgomery in the midfield, the Kardinals' defense, anchored by SaraBeth Krein in the middle, also was solid.
Kardinals keeper Stephanie Arbelovsky was able to handle several good Homer shots for the shutout.
Reilly said that Kenai's success against Homer came in the midfield, where Montgomery was able to find space to play the ball forward.
"We had more of a (presence in the) midfield," Reilly said. "Jamie was everywhere. What happened with Palmer was that they were sucking back defensively.
"Lacey Wisniewski stepped up great. We needed her to be able to win the ball in the back and then be able to play it forward so we could run onto it."
Homer finishes its season with a 5-3-1 regular-season record and a 1-2 mark in the region tournament.
The Kardinals (8-1, 2-1) still have a chance to notch another win at the state tournament starting Thursday at Skyview.
"I'm glad that we made it to state," Reilly said. "After basketball, where we should have made it but didn't, I'm glad we made it in soccer. I'm glad we made it for our seniors."
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