The Skyview boys soccer team lost all three games at the Spring Fever tournament Thursday through Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park in Juneau, but Panthers coach Dave Carpenter couldn't be happier.
"The opportunity was well-earned, and we took advantage of it," Carpenter said of the tournament, which also gave his squad a chance to visit the Capitol and take a whale-watching cruise. "It was an amazing opportunity."
The Skyview boys earned the opportunity through their play at the state tournament last year and some perseverance by Carpenter.
At state last year, the Panthers took third place, the best finish ever for a peninsula boys team, and won the sportsmanship award.
That play caught the eye of Don Ashe, the head of the Juneau soccer booster club. In September, Ashe invited Skyview to travel down for the tournament.
"He said we were the type of team they liked to have at the tournament, not only skillwise but behaviorwise," Carpenter said.
Playing at the tournament would have put Skyview past the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's 10-game limit for the regular season, but Carpenter went to the school board to get the 10-game limit waived for this season and to get a 15-game season approved on a trial basis.
That put the Panthers on a plane to Juneau on Thursday. The Juneau booster club pitched in $1,000 for the trip, while Skyview's players game up with the rest. The players are currently raising funds to make back the money spent on the trip.
After arriving in Juneau at 3 p.m. Thursday, Skyview played South, expected to be one of the state's top teams, at 5:45 p.m. and lost 2-0 in a scrimmage. The game was a scrimmage because South did not have enough practices for an official game yet.
The team spent Friday morning at the Capitol, observing legislative sessions and getting to meet with Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, and Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai.
Senior Matt Stalnik, who made the all-state tournament team last year as a goalie, said visiting the state's capital city was a new thing for almost the entire team.
"It definitely reflected what I've learned in my government class," Stalnik said. "Usually when I'm in my government class, I think of the process as being serious. It was surprising to see them joke around a little bit."
On Friday afternoon, Skyview reported back to the soccer pitch and lost to the Wenatchee (Wash.) Panthers 2-0.
"They played in a fast, low-ball style," Carpenter said. "It's the style we've been trying to convince these guys to use for years. That game helped us convince them."
Saturday, Skyview lost to Juneau-Douglas, the runner-up at state last year, 4-0.
Still, Carpenter said getting on a full-sized field this early and playing two of the state's best teams was an invaluable experience.
"It'll probably be hard for the team to come back and practice in the gym for a few weeks now," said Carpenter, whose practice fields at Skyview are still covered in ice and snow.
The team ended the trip with a whale-watching cruise on Sunday with the Wenatchee squad and a girls team from Cheyenne Central in Wyoming.
"I know nobody on our team had ever been in the Capitol building and nobody had ever been whale-watching in Juneau," said junior Tyler Thornton. "It was all-new for everybody. It was nice."
Because the teams socialized quite a bit during the tournament, Carpenter said the play was very clean and the sportsmanship was great. He said he only saw one yellow card issued during a game.
"Usually, the other team is the enemy," Stalnik said. "It's hard to think of them as the enemy when you've gotten to know them, though."
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