It was one small loss to Service, one giant step forward for soccer on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Kenai Central girls soccer team fell to Service 3-0 Thursday in its opening game at the inaugural Alaska School Activities Association State Soccer Championships at Skyview High School.
While the Cougars controlled the majority of play by keeping the field balanced and executing crisp passes and traps, the Kardinals used their hounding team speed and constant hustle to show they can compete with the state's best.
"We matched them as far as hustle went, and I might even say we out-hustled them," said Kenai goalie Stephanie Arbelovsky. "I think we learned we can play with teams like that."
While Kenai's varsity program is only three years old and draws from a school of about 500, Service, with over 2,000 students, has long had the best girls program in the state.
The Cougars had a 93-match winning streak broken last year and Thursday they improved their record this year to 14-1-1.
With the two sides posting such differing resumes, the big question as the teams lined up for the opening touch was whether Service would post a score more suited to "American" football.
And, initially, it appeared the rout was on.
Just four minutes in, the Cougars were rewarded for their constant attack when Justine Hammer controlled a shot that had just thudded off the woodwork and hammered it past Arbelovsky.
Then, with 20 minutes gone, Service's Stephanie Smith beat two defenders at the corner of the penalty area and grounded a shot past Arbelovsky's left side for a 2-0 lead.
"I thought, initially, we were a little shellshocked," Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen said. "We had that look like, 'What are we doing here at state? What's going on?'
"But we got over that and started to create opportunities of our own."
Midway through the first half, Kenai's speed, particularly the quickness of forward Jessi Reilly, began to give the Cougars' back line problems.
At 21 minutes, Reilly snuck behind Service's defense for a near miss on goal. The junior got loose on another through ball a minute later and earned a direct kick at the top of the penalty area. On the restart, Cory Hershberger put the chance just high and wide of the net.
"Their speed surprised me," Service coach Mark Cascolan said. "It caused us a lot of hassles.
"Our defense was really well organized today. It had to be to limit them from getting good shot opportunities."
If there was one play that epitomized Kenai's aggression and unwillingness to back down, it came with 26 minutes gone in the first half when Kenai's Katherine Amen and Service's Erin Gillespie arrived at a loose ball simultaneously.
The crack of a solid collision rang through the air, and both players slumped to the grass. Amen popped right back up while Gillespie remained motionless on the turf for several minutes.
Cascolan said after the game that Gillespie had the wind knocked out of her and would be fine.
"It made a big difference when we started running through the ball," Reilly said. "I could see they were starting to respect us.
"There was one time when the ball was between (Kenai's) Jamie (Montgomery) and two of their players. Jamie ran through it and they backed off. I thought to myself, 'That has to be good.'"
However, by the second half it became apparent that speed and aggression usually only take a soccer team so far.
Six minutes into the second half, Marcie Alzheimer touched home a cross from Hammer to give the Cougars a 3-0 lead.
But that was all Service would get on Arbelovsky, who would make 10 saves. The Kenai defense, led by SaraBeth Krein, limited most of the Cougars' chances to shots from 20 yards and out.
Verkuilen was happy with the way his team chased Service and pointed specifically to the efforts of Reilly, Montgomery, Krein, Amy Fischer and Kristi Knudsen.
"We can walk away from this game with our heads up," Reilly said. "We responded to this game well as a team.
"Everybody kept hustling the whole game. We never got down on each other."
Goalkeeper Lianne Reed recorded the shutout for Service.
East 3, Juneau-Douglas 1
East and Juneau-Douglas were tied at one at the half thanks to early goals, but the Thunderbirds scored twice in the second half for the opening-round win.
Brittney Fosbrook put East on the board a minute into the match, but the Bears responded two minutes later when Krystle Llanto found the back of the Thunderbirds' net.
Aimee Wright put East back on top in the 47th minute, and Kelly Ridge added an insurance goal in the 61st minute.
Colony 2, West 1
West's Michelle Hansen and Colony's Grace Borland scored the only goals in 80 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime and an additional 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime.
Hansen found the back of the net in the 13th minute, but the Knights tied the score with Borland's goal three minutes later.
Hillary Ree scored for West in the shootout, but Sam Gatto and Amber Tubbs converted their penalty kicks to give the Knights the win and the pass to the semifinals.
Bartlett 2, Palmer 1
Bartlett and Palmer, still tied after 110 minutes of regulation and overtime soccer, needed a shootout to determine the team that would advance to the semifinals.
Tara Hillis and Tammi Callison scored for the Moose in the shootout, but four Bears -- Adrien Theur, Natalie Garber, Erica Doyle and Stephanie Krawczyk -- converted their penalty kicks to send Bartlett through to the semifinals and Palmer to the consolation bracket.
Jhacie Azure netted Palmer's goal in the 44th minute of regulation and Karin Copus scored for Bartlett three minutes after that.
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