It may be tough sitting inside and watching an event like the Masters golf tournament in warm, sunny Georgia this time of year, while in Alaska there is still feet of snow on the ground, but prep soccer teams are used to it.
In preparation for this season, almost every Peninsula team has spent every hour practicing indoors, in gyms and hallways, in anticipation for the season’s first games. The only teams that have had playing time on a full-size turf field are the Kenai Central and Soldotna teams, who held a shortened scrimmage at The Dome in Anchorage last Monday, and the Nikiski teams on Thursday, also at The Dome.
In Region III play, four teams from the Southern Division get a spot in the Northern Lights Conference tournament, scheduled for mid-May at Soldotna, and with such a short playing season, teams know they can’t afford to get off to a slow start.
Last year, the Soldotna girls completed an undeafeated season with 11 wins, then qualified for the state tournament with a shootout victory over Kenai for their third straight NLC championship. At state, the team won its first game, lost the second and tied 1-1 with Dimond in the third-place match.
This year, there are hardly any key losses from graduation, with only three leaving the team, and coach Jimmy Love said that bodes well for him.
“From that standpoint we’re looking good,” Love said. “I was a little concerned from the beginning how to fill those vacancies. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now.”
Love, beginning his eighth season as a SoHi coach, said there is a full sophomore class on the team, but he will be looking for his seniors to lead.
Sophomore Miranda Wolfe, an all-state tournament team member from last year, returns in the midfield, along with junior sister Kylee Wolfe, senior Heidi Westerman, junior Julie Litchfield, senior Natalie Kress and junior goalkeeper Katelynn Kerkvliet.
“I think we’re looking pretty good, but it’s hard to tell when you’re spending five to six weeks in the gym,” Love said. “Everything reacts differently on grass, but with our girls and their abilities we can hopefully be a state team.”
As state qualifiers the last three years, the squad is looking for any advantage to carry them further this year. A trip to The Dome certainly helped last Monday.
“We’ll be going to The Dome next Friday for another scrimmage session, and beyond that, we’ll work on skills, ball touches, passing,” Love said. “Everyone’s limited in the gym, so it kind of gets them prepped for a full field. We’ve been in this position to be somewhat prepared for it.
“Maybe that’s what could we have done different last year to go further.”
SoHi is scheduled to open their official season with a game against Grace Christian on April 23 at Anchorage Football Stadium, provided the turf is free of snow.
On the boys side, two key seniors return to the team — Cameron Grothe and Cory Carver.
“They’ll both provide senior leadership,” said coach Jeff Siemers. “The juniors that have played for me for all their years in high school I expect will help too.”
Siemers mentioned that the boys squad looks younger this year, and will be looking to see how well they jel together as a team.
“We have a few sophomores and juniors who haven’t played before, so getting them to get in a groove is important for the chemistry of the team.”
Along with Carver and Grothe, senior Jonas Perletti and junior Keely Abendroth help fill out the midfield, with junior Kayne North returning as keeper.
Siemers enters his 12th year as a coach for the team, and although the team narrowly missed a state berth last season, he believes 2013 can be a strong year for the squad.
“We always have a good rivalry with Kenai and Nikiski, and I know Homer lost a bunch of seniors but we usually play them well too,” Siemers said. “Making it to state would be important. The seniors want to make it to state so that is a goal.”
A year after placing sixth at the state tournament, the Kenai girls team is looking for more.
“It’ll be fun, we have a good group of kids,” said coach Dan Verkuilen. “We have a couple returners, that adds experience. It’s always fun to have them back after that state experience, and we also have a nice freshmen class coming in to provide some depth.”
Verkuilen returns for his 15th year as head coach, and said that this year is another year he hopes to qualify for state.
“It’s always hard to say. SoHi will be strong again. It might be us and SoHi again,” he said. “Unless there’s another team we don’t know about. Of course we always wonder how Colony and Palmer and Wasilla will do.
“It can be hard to get motivated when you’re always inside a gym, so that scrimmage gave the kids something to look forward to.”
Although the team did lose some of its senior leadership from last year — notably Lauren Schams and Taylor Ostrander — the members that are returning fill the vacated spots, said Verkuilen.
Senior keeper Sydney Taylor, defender Cassie Ross and forwards Ericka Reynolds and Jenna Calhoun are tabbed as the captains of the team. In addition, Sarah Rawson, Chelsea Springer, Brandi Wagoner, Logan Tuttle and Kelsey Williams return as seniors.
“I have high expectations for them, they’re athletic enough,” Verkhuilen said.
The Kards’ first official game is scheduled for April 19 at Colony, followed by Palmer the next day.
The Kenai boys lost a few more seniors than the girls did — namely Alex Springer, Evan Atchley, Keegan Remsen, Kenley Scarlett and Kyle Scarlett.
But, again, there will be names to fill those holes, according to second-year head coach John Morton.
“There’s some juniors and seniors this year stepping into those places, and a couple of foreign students,” Morton said. “We’re still trying to figure out what the formations are.”
Like the other schools, the biggest hindrance to finding the best lineup is the snow outside, which made the trip to The Dome all the better.
“It was good to get the guys running for more than 40 yards,” Morton said. “It was a 2-0 win, so we hope that means we’ll be good.”
Morton said there are a lot of freshmen out for team this year, which he hopes can also keep up the strength of the team in future years.
“We try to have personal goals and then team goals, but it’s all about things we can control,” he said. “The stuff we have control over, like our style of play, is what we’re looking to improve.”
TJ Wagoner and Steven Young are two key players who look like the early leaders of the team, according to Morton. Levi Hansen returns as goalie.
“You never know with high school soccer, the kids get bigger and grow into their bodies,” Morton said. “I mean, Grace plays pretty good possession ball, Colony plays great, from what I’ve heard they might be the team to beat, and SoHi’s always tough. It’ll be an interesting year.”
Last year’s Homer boys team ended up being one of the biggest surprise contenders of the year, and many coaches took notice.
The squad, led by coach Warren Waldorf, went 9-0-2 in the regular season, were beat 2-1 in a close game against Wasilla in last year’s NLC championship game, but finished the year strong at the state tournament with a fourth-place finish — including a dominant 4-2 win over the Warriors — in the team’s first-ever state bid.
“It was a special year, pretty unusual,” Waldorf said. “Things came together as well as we hoped, and at the end we never found out how things could’ve been. We just got better every game, and the kids this year have some big shoes to fill.”
Seniors Robin Glosser and Lennart Von Schlichting were on the All-Tournament team last year at state, but Glosser graduated and Von Schlichting was a foreign exchange student. Vegard Unhjem, another key player, was also a one-year exchange student.
“I ran into a parent over the winter, who said last year you really made a believer out of us,” Waldorf recounted. “I think we have a few more people in our corner this year.”
Kyle Wisner, Lewis Koplin and Andre Lovett were all starters that have also graduated, leaving Waldorf with a much different squad this season.
Back this season is senior Konstantin Reutov, keeper Grant Arseneau, Carson Duggar, Ethan Kizzia, Connor McCarron, Quinn Daugharty and Peter Ellert. All players except Ellert were key contributors last season, but Ellert was a JV player.
“Our goal is always to go .500 and try to get past that first game at regions,” Waldorf said. “We have 36 kids between the varsity and JV teams, which is a good number, so obviously it’s going to be a different team. We lost a lot of experienced players, but there’s a new crew stepping up.
“It gives you something to shoot for.”
This season will be Waldorf’s sixth as head coach at Homer, and the team is scheduled to open its season at Skyview on April 24.
On the girls side, Mickey Todd returns as the head coach.
The Nikiski girls return many of their top starters from a year ago, and coach Mandy Adair said the team is looking to improve upon their NLC performance from last year, which they were seeded third in.
“It’s so hard to tell (early in the season) because we’re a young team,” Adair said. “It’ll be awhile until we can see how it’s going to come together. I think fitness is one of our strengths, hopefully we can outrun other teams.”
Nikiski managed to get some time in The Dome in Anchorage, and Adair hopes to get there again soon.
“We haven’t been outside yet, and we’re itching to get outside.”
The key returning players include junior Rebekah Krogseng in goal, senior forward Bailey Buchholz and senior Taylor Calderwood at sweeper.
“Our defense is almost entirely different from last year, so we’re working to build up defensive strength,” Adair said. “We have some younger girls coming up too.”
Adair also mentioned that she thinks the team that matches up the best with Nikiski is Kenai.
“The main target is Kenai. Dan Verkuilen has a great program,” Adair said. “It’s a good way to measure ourselves by. SoHi is definitely the top team I think, they have the core group of players, so we just want to be competitive with those guys and make them earn it.”
The Nikiski boys will be coached by Jim Coburn for a 16th year, and Coburn said the recent scrimmage the team had at The Dome against Kenai was a relief.
“It was nice to get out the gym. The kids had a lot of fun,” Coburn said. “When you get that many kids in a gym all the time, it’s rough.
“I thought it was kind of hilarious when Mexico and the USA were complaining about snow, in that international match the other day. I was thinking, man we do that all the time.”
Thirty-two players will fill out the boys varsity and JV teams, which Coburn calls a “nice turnout.”
Among the integral players are sophomore Christian Riddall, senior keeper Lincoln Johnson, senior Devan Berry, Josh Brown, Jonny Hall, Seth Johnson, Morgan Sauve and Logan Harrison. In addition, Josh Croze, Michael Stangel and Garrett Feller will add depth to the team.
The squad will be playing Houston on Tuesday at the Dome.
The Skyview boys team missed the NLC tournament last year, which is something they are gunning for this season.
Brandon Goggia returns for his second year as head coach, and said the turnover rate from last year was not that big, which should be an advantage.
“It’s nice, we were able to build off the team from last year,” Goggia said. “We’re not starting from scratch, but there is a lot of new players.”
Sophomore Bailey Jones returns as goalie, but other than that position, Goggia said it remains to be seen who will be the key players.
“Right now we’re just hoping for warm weather,” he said. “It’s just been inside every day. The fields are plowed, but there’s ice beneath the grass.”
In order to play at the region tournament, Goggia said it will likely come down to Kenai, Nikiski and themselves.
“I think Homer is going be a solid team again and (win) again this year, but it’ll be close with us,” he said.
Skyview is scheduled to face Kenai on April 23.
The Skyview girls will be coached by longtime Skyview coach David Carpenter.
Due to low numbers, there will be no boys team this season for Seward, but the girls program will be featuring 19 players.
“These are the strongest numbers we’ve had in a few year, so we’re happy for that,” said Seward girls coach Tim Lebling. “It allows us to have a varsity and JV program as well.”
Lebling, starting his 10th year with Seward, said the team never got onto their home field at all last season, and hopes the snowpack melts quick. The numbers this year will help to be competitive in the region.
“We’re at a disadvantage because soccer is the last sport here to be broken up by school size,” Lebling said. “But this is a team of athletes. We’re more athlete than soccer player.”
Lebling said the team’s star keeper, who didn’t play last year due to a broken ankle, Chelsea Clarke, is back, along with senior Gretchen Lindquist, Neeka Erchinger and Ashley Whiteshield as a key defender.
“The years we had strong teams were the ones we had a strong keeper,” Lebling said.
The Seward girls have never participated in the NLC tournament, something that Lebling hopes to change this year.
“It seems like every year that’s our goal. To play strong against teams in our region,” he said. “We’d like to beat Homer, Nikiski and Skyview. Those are important games.”