The spring high school soccer season has already begun, but it sure does not feel like it.
Teams have been practicing since March 5, but games have been very limited, due to the snowpack covering the fields. The few teams that have been able to compete against other teams have done so almost exclusively at The Dome in Anchorage.
However, as the snow height edges closer to ground level, schools have been able to finish the job by clearing the outside fields, and soon the number of games will drastically pick up.
So the question is, which teams will be strong this year, and what goals have teams set for themselves?
The Kenai Central girls team has a game under its belt already this season, an 11-0 win over Seward at The Dome.
“Basically, it was Seward’s first time on a full field, and ours as well,” Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said. “It was one of those chances to spread the kids out and see where we are at. It’s hard to read into it because it was the first time this year.”
Verkuilen said that most of the early part of the season has been spent inside in the gym, working on different skills.
“I’m sure there’s no shortage of things to work on at this point, but the biggest thing is just the chemistry,” Verkuilen said. “We have quite a few younger kids coming in, and some players that have played a year or so back that have come out again this year.
“So we’re just putting the pieces of the puzzle together right now.”
Among the talent, Verkuilen tabbed Lauren Schams, Taylor Ostrander and Vanessa Anderson as three senior captains, with Ostrander in center midfield position. He also mentioned senior Cassie Ross and junior Jenna Calhoun as playmakers who will likely add to the depth of a team hoping to reach the state competition in mid-May.
“State is definitely in our goals this year, last year we had a pretty young team, and went into overtime with Wasilla for a playoff position at regions,” Verkuilen said. “So we have high hopes of doing well enough to get there.”
On the boys side, John Morton takes over the team as head coach.
The Soldotna girls, under the guidance first-year head coach Jimmy Love, is shaping up to be a young, but experienced, team.
“We’re going to be young, I think we have a good returning group, but we lost quite a few seniors last year,” Love said. “We were a senior-freshman team last year, so this year we have I think three seniors that return, we have a good number of sophomores and a big freshmen class coming in.”
Love has experience working with the Soldotna team, with the title of assistant coach in recent years. This year, he replaced Mike Tovoli.
Love said the influx of new players who have competed in area competitive leagues has been beneficial.
“We have done fairly well in the comp program, these freshmen and sophomore girls have been playing together already for the last few years, and it shows,” Love said. “Those girls that have been playing comp have the skills and experience.”
Love said it is still hard to tell how the talent will shape up on the field.
“Having the chemistry right now in the gym, we’ll see how well that carries over to an actual full size outside field,” Love said. “The freshman girls are playing together well with the older, returning girls, and it’s like they’ve been playing for months now, even though it’s only been a few weeks, and I’m anxious to see how well they put it together for the end of the season.”
Practice in the gym has been difficult to simulate the experience of playing on an open, outside field, but Love said the team is used to it, since they do live in Alaska.
“We’re working on trying to get stuff happening a little quicker than what they’re used to,” he said. “So instead of messing around taking three or four touches to get a shot off, we’re trying to make it a touch to get a shot.”
Love said the goal this year is to finish strong in the conference tournament and hopefully draw a state bid.
“They are young, but we have the talent and depth to do it,” he said. “It’s within our capabilities for sure.”
On the boys side, Soldotna is expecting more of the same. Head coach Jeff Siemers said the team is hoping to improve every game that is played, and make a run at the state tournament.
“We have a younger team this year, we’ve got a good number of players that will be playing, freshmen through seniors this year,” Siemers said. “That’s good for longevity. We have a few returning starters who should bring up the quality of play.”
Those starters Siemers named will be senior Dagen Walton, junior Cameron Grothe and junior Cory Carver.
On the defensive side, Siemers named Keely Abendroth, Kevin Stone and Kayne North, who will be goalkeeper.
“We’ve had a young team for the last few years, so we’re building things up, and our juniors have had a lot of varsity time,” Siemers said. “We’ve been solidifying the team, and hopefully that maturity comes through in games.”
Siemers said the local matches are the games he is looking forward to.
“There’s always the local rivals, like Kenai and Nikiski, so those are always fun games to play, and Colony and Wasilla up north have been typically strong opponents as well,” he said.
Soldotna will play Grace Christian on Tuesday at the Anchorage Football Stadium.
Skyview’s boys and girls teams will be looking to make a name for themselves this season, as the young teams have made significant progress.
David Carpenter, head coach of the Skyview girls, said the team lost four talented seniors from last year, but has replaced them well.
“That’s what we tried to do last year,” Carpenter said. “We always had a good rotation going. We’re going to be brand new on our defense, so that’s always going to be exciting and I don’t sell a lot on defense, but last year we were real solid with seniors back there.”
Chelsea Winter will be a force on the field this year, Carpenter said, as well as Nicole Tromblee, who led Skyview with six goals a year ago. Carpenter named Hannah Hutchison, Makinna Halverson and goalkeeper Dallas Derflinger as returning players who are expected to be strong players this year.
Carpenter said the number of players who have played in the competitive leagues has helped the team tremendously.
“We’ve got a few freshmen who came in the door who have played quite a bit, which speaks volumes about the future, and it’s nice to see that,” he said. “It’s probably the strongest freshman class. They’re coming out of (Soldotna Middle School), some of them are comp players. It’s nice to have, that skill and lot of time playing on the field with each other.”
Skyview’s boys team, coached this year by Brandon Goggia, has a set goal of making it to the conference tournament.
“The team has improved a lot,” Goggia said. “From day one of this season until now, they’ve improved a lot.”
Goggia said the sophomore-heavy team has been working on personal technique, and has been able to do so outside for the past week.
“We’re focusing on small victories,” he said. “A win here, a tie there, so not just the losses.”
Freshman goaltender Bailey Jones is expected to perform well, Goggia noted, and without the aid of outside leagues the other schools have been blessed with, Goggia is impressed with the way the team has practiced thus far.
“We need to compete, win more games than last year, and just get better overall,” Goggia said. “So far, I think we’re on our way to fulfilling that goal.”
The Nikiski girls have been impressive in the few games they have played this year up in Anchorage, notching a tie with Colony and a win over Houston. Head coach Mandy Adair said finally getting out of the gym is helping the team, and is hoping for a strong year.
“I think we have a strong and motivated team this year,” Adair said. “Coming into this season, I felt we had a team we can get to regions, and hopefully we can beat a team in regions and challenge for it.
“They’re buying into the deal.”
Adair said Bailey Buchholz and Morgan Tschida are two forwards who should be goal scorers, as well as Koey Dixon and Brittney Scott.
Jim Coburn, head coach of the Nikiski boys, said the team had 11 seniors graduate from last year, but the current squad gets along together well.
“Depending on the weather, we’re hoping to get outside and get going,” Coburn said.
The team has already played Colony and Houston, dropping both games, but has scoring potential in both Christian Riddall and Colton Anderson.
“Anderson is a good leader, so I’m excited for us to play, and hopefully we can make a run at the region tournament,” Coburn said.
The Seward boys team is lacking this year on numbers, according to head coach Dustin Phillips, who said the team is currently at nine boys. However, he expects that number to pick up.
“Not a lot of boys at the school are playing sports at the moment,” Phillips said. “We also graduated four seniors last year.”
Even so, Phillips said there is some talent on the team, as senior Gabe Stovall is returning. Stovall was the leading scorer from a year ago.
“Seward is definitely a big running town, so there’s a lot of kids focusing on track now,” Phillips said. “But, we’re working on skill work, we have some new players, it will be their first time on a full size field, so we’ll see where we are after that.”
Only three short from last year’s graduating seniors, the Mariners boys soccer team is looking promising.
Warren Waldorf will be the head coach this year, and said Junior Konstantin Reutov and senior Robin Glosser are players to watch. Exchange students and juniors Vegard Unhjem and Lennart Von Schlichting also will add to the team.
The Homer girls are also looking to contend this year.
Head coach Mickey Todd returns to the field after a few seasons away from coaching. Alongside Anna Fischer, the duo will be coaching the varsity team.
For the preseason, Todd and Fischer have been getting the team back to the basics with lots of passing drills. Holding practice indoors makes it difficult to hold scrimmages.
Todd said the girls are looking forward to the conference tournament and maybe a shot at state.
The Homer News contributed to this report.