Kentwood goalie Connor Leistiko looks for teammates to start the offense. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood goalie Connor Leistiko looks for teammates to start the offense. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Boys soccer: Kentwood ties Puyallup on the pitch

Conks’ record now 1-1-1 through first three games.

The Kentwood Conquerors’ home opener ended in a 1-1 draw against the Puyallup Vikings on March 20.

It’s been seven years since the Kentwood boys soccer team has made the state tournament. That 2016 season, the Conquerors reached the opening round and fell to Wenatchee, 3-2.

To reach that state tournament, it’s going to take the whole team.

“It comes down to the drive these guys have and the push to get to that next level. We have a lot of seniors on this team and they’re hungry for it and plenty skilled to do it,” Coach Ray Johnson said.

This season, Kentwood has challenged themselves with their non-league schedule, facing Union and Puyallup within their first three games of the season. Both of them reached the first round of the state tournament last season.

“It’s important to play these types of teams … Once we hopefully get to the playoffs, we will have had tough games under our belt already,” said senior Connor Leistiko.

The Conquerors opened the season 1-1 with their lone win coming against Kent-Meridian 4-1 on March 17.

To start the game, Johnson didn’t think they got out to their best start.

“I don’t think we played our best game. We were a little slow to start… But I thought we held out pretty good,” Johnson said.

Puyallup got on the board first — in the 11th minute a corner was delivered into the box. Roby Hooper deflected it into the back of the net for an early Viking lead.

“They scored on a corner. I thought we might have been a little lazy. But maybe if we clean that up, we keep them off the scoreboard altogether,” Johnson said.

Outside of that early goal, Kentwood’s senior goalkeeper Connor Leistiko was very good. He communicated with the defense and had great anticipation on some difficult passes and shots that the Vikings sent his way.

“It’s communication, reading the flight of the ball and the instincts. And having the experience of having games under my belt,” Leistiko said.

Kentwood got its equalizer in the 28th minute. The goal came off the right-footed boot of senior forward Armani Albert, who snuck the ball into the left corner of the net, beating the Viking goalie.

The two teams went into halftime deadlocked at 1-1. The Conks made an adjustment at halftime tactically and it worked out well for Johnson.

“I thought we were gonna get one there at the end. … We adjusted where our outside backs play, and it seemed to work for a while. But they had some talented forwards and we might have got lucky a couple times,” Johnson said.

Coming out of halftime, Puyallup had all the opportunities early on. The best opportunity for Kentwood during the second half was a penalty kick 30 yards out. The shot was directed to the top right corner and needed a high-quality save from the Viking goalie to keep the game level at 1-1.

Despite Puyallup giving the Conks their best shot in the waning minutes of the contest, Kentwood didn’t allow the Vikings to score. The Conquerors held Puyallup off the scoreboard for 69 consecutive minutes to end the game.

“Our goalkeeper is phenomenal. Connor is very talented… Our defense is very well organized,” said Johnson.

As a team, the Conks play well together, and that comes down to their chemistry.

“We’re a very close team. The more we come together, the more we have a chance of making a run. It’s my senior year, we have a lot of seniors on this team. We want to keep going and keep playing and having fun,” Leistiko said.

Kentwood’s next home league game is against Auburn on March 24.

Kentwood goalie Connor Leistiko looks for teammates to start the offense. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood goalie Connor Leistiko looks for teammates to start the offense. Ben Ray / The Reporter

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