The Kenai Central High School girls soccer team wrapped up its season Friday, dropping a consolation-bracket match 5-1 to West Valley at the state tournament in Anchorage.
“We’ll survive,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen after one last team huddle and cheer. “The kids had their hearts in it. I know they wanted to show well for Kenai.”
Kenai started the match strong, working the ball across the midfield and up the left wing for a shot after the opening kickoff, but the Wolfpack quickly turned the tables. Kenai’s defense turned aside a shot in the penalty area in the seventh minute and goalkeeper Kyla Steward made a nice save in the eighth before West Valley broke through for a goal in the 10th. Brook Bender finished off a nice passing sequence with the shot for the Wolfpack.
West Valley coach Greg Gibson said his team was able to take advantage of the space Kenai gave them in the midfield.
“They (Kenai) had three forwards pressing up, and that left the midfield open. That’s one of our strengths. We can combine pretty good in the midfield,” Gibson said.
West Valley added a goal in the 29th minute on a shot by Katy Delong as the Wolfpack were able to work the ball though the middle.
Kenai opened the second half much like it started the first, and was rewarded with a goal in the 42nd minute. The Kardinals worked the ball up the left wing and won a throw-in. The ball was played into the penalty area, where Jamie Peterson finished to cut West Valley’s lead to a goal.
“We had a spark coming out at half. It was just a matter of getting one in and I thought, ‘Here we go,’” Verkuilen said.
West Valley knocked the wind out of the Kardinals 13 minutes later, though, when Julie Olson beat Steward to the far post with a shot from 20 yards out.
Linda Evan added a fourth goal for West Valley in the 61st minute on a shot from 25 yards out that dipped just under the crossbar, and capped the scoring with six minutes left in the match when she won a loose ball in a crowd in the Kenai penalty area, broke free and scored.
“I’d like to think that third goal didn’t break our back, but it did,” Verkuilen said.
Kenai forward Keeley Boyle said it was a tough way to end the season.
“We could’ve played a much better game with that team,” Boyle said. “Dimond obviously was a more experienced team, but this team, on a different day, we could’ve taken it to them, so that was a little harder.”
Despite a pair of tough matches at the state tournament, Verkuilen said his squad could still look back on its season with pride.
“We had some goals at the beginning of the season beat Wasilla, win a game at (the Northern Lights Conference tournament) and try to make it to state. They did all those things,” Verkuilen said. “For a team of girls that doesn’t play comp soccer, they came together pretty well.”
“I feel like we had a great season. We completed all the goals we outlined at the beginning of the season. As a whole season, it felt good. It was a great last season for me,” Boyle said.
Verkuilen said many of the younger players on the Kenai roster are involved in off-season competitive soccer clubs, and that bodes well for the future.
“They have an advantage. They got to play in a state tournament as freshmen. They know what to expect, know what it’s like and what to strive for,” Boyle said.
Verkuilen complimented his squad for being a classy team all season and gave one last nod to his seniors, Sammie Johnson, Jamie Peterson, Boyle, Samantha Calderwood and Hayley Mishler.
“That’s the big thing. The three captains (Boyle, Calderwood and Mishler) motivated the team and held it together. The other kids saw that energy and followed it,” Verkuilen said. “None of those girls wanted to come off the field.
“That character has been there every day in practice and in this tournament. What will be missed, as much as their skill that comes with years of playing, is their leadership. That will be the hardest part to replace.”
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