West Valley tops Kenai: Kardinals eliminated from state on Friday

Posted: Friday, May 29, 2009

Playing on short rest Friday morning, after their game started more than two hours late the night before, the Kenai Central girls showed few lingering signs of weariness in the beginning of their consolation semifinal game against West Valley.

The Wolfpack, fresh off an extended game Thursday, losing in a shootout to South, appeared to wake up themselves just in time.

Trailing 2-1 at halftime, fifth-seeded West Valley used three second-half goals to eliminate the third-seeded Kardinals, 4-2, before going on to blank Colony, 3-0, in Saturday's fourth-place contest of the state soccer tournament at Anchorage Football Stadium.

Kenai's 2-0, opening-round loss on Thursday to sixth-seeded Juneau-Douglas -- which took second after falling to defending champion Service in Saturday's championship -- was delayed after three of the first five games were decided in shootouts, which don't occur until after a 20-minute overtime session.

The Kardinals' game, which was slated to begin at 6 p.m., didn't start until nearly 8:30 p.m. and ended just after 10 p.m.

Getting the team prepared for a game multiple times posed its problems.

"That was difficult. It was probably our fourth pep talk," joked Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen, recently named Northern Lights Conference girls coach of the year. "We warmed up at 4:30, we did a pep talk at 4:30.

"We waited on the bus, then we warmed up ... another OT ... it was cold and wet. It was a difficult one," he added. "There was really no progression as far as warming up and stuff, but it went both ways."

The Crimson Bears carried a 2-0 lead into halftime and held on for the win.

Then came a new dilemma, going to sleep and rising for a 10 a.m. kickoff.

"We probably ate at 11:30 at night then got them to bed around 12 or so and then getting them up at 7 to get warmed up and get awake enough," Verkuilen said. "That was a pretty good challenge."

Perhaps less than he initially thought, though.

Junior Casey Coupchiak staked Kenai (8-2-3) to an early lead, capping a dominating opening 15 minutes for Kenai with a header off a cross.

"They came out strong," Verkuilen said of his squad, adding West Valley (16-3-1) held its composure and fought right back. "They just weren't as aggressive to the ball in the first 15 minutes. But they kind of woke up, too."

Zoe Kurth evened the game on a rebound, one of three goals on the game for the junior striker, which came about 25 minutes into the game after the ball hit the post.

All-state selection and Kenai senior Shelby Daly connected on a direct kick roughly 32 minutes in, driving the ball over the goalie and into the far, upper netting for a 2-1 halftime lead.

From there, it was mostly the Wolfpack.

Kurth tied it midway through the second half, Shelby Solomon netted the eventual game-winner from outside the 18-yard line and Kurth struck again a few minutes later, converting on a penalty kick after getting fouled.

"(West Valley) came out and played real strong. I don't know that we were tired or anything like that, it seemed that they worked hard. We just couldn't generate much offense," Verkuilen said. "West Valley seemed to start getting to the ball more in the middle. They had some opportunities. The girls up front had some really nice strikes.

"We can play with West Valley. We were at their caliber of play," he added. "In the first half we kind of shined and in the second half, they did."

Outscoring their opponents 38-4 entering state, the Kardinals' season ended after running the table at last weekend's NLC tournament, during which they shut out three opponents en route to their first conference crown and state trip since 2006.

"I was just proud of the girls. You always want to try and win one at state, that's always exciting. But I think they showed themselves well, kept their composure and played hard," Verkuilen said. "It was a good season. ... They never put their heads down. They were working for the win, it just wasn't going to be."

Verkuilen commented on the strong play of defender Khelby Kennedy, forward Holly Perkins, Sheena Anderson and goaltender Lacie Wortham, as well as the entire team in general.

He also said it's evident how beneficial to a soccer team an indoor surface of some kind can be.

"It kind of shows when it comes right down to it as far as just being able to move the ball," Verkuilen explained. "We were a cohesive team and did well but in the big scheme statewide, you definitely could use that time to get to know each other even more and that seems to stand out a little bit at state.

"If you had four or five weeks on a big area, it's like having a whole other season together, versus just three weeks of playing games. I'm all for that new sports facility or turf or anything," he laughed.

Crucial to the Kardinals' success this year, he said, was the support of the community and parents, some of which provided meals and massages to the players during their trip to the conference tourney in the Valley.

"I've always been impressed with Kenai and how their parents support the kids. This year was just amazing," Verkuilen said. "It was just one of those things, it wasn't you and the team, it was a group of parents.

"They're just a real class act. I'm just really honored to be a part of that."

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