Coaches across the Kenai Peninsula are taking a wait and see approach to this year's high school soccer season they need the snow to melt before they can figure out just what they've got in terms of talent.
"We're all sick of indoors," said Soldotna boys coach Jeff Siemers. "With the snow and the weather the way it's been I just hope that spring comes quicker."
"There's nothing like training for a field game on hardwood," said Homer girls coach Mickey Todd.
Coaches said that scrimmaging well in a gym doesn't necessarily translate to success outdoors. While it can be a good place to develop skills, players might look better than they are because of the true bounce offered by the smooth floor, or they might look worse a ball played on the ground will slow down on grass but keep right on rolling in the gym.
Teams also can't work on many situations encountered during the run of play on a full field.
"We can't even work on corner kicks or long balls," Todd said. "All we can do right now is try to get as many touches on the ball as possible."
Other coaches are doing all they can to keep their players interested and motivated.
"We do a few things to keep it fun," said Kenai Central girls coach Dan Verkuilen. "Yesterday we did a little indoor tournament. We keep trying to find ways to implement skills, but we mix it up a little. We've done some pool training, and we've had conditioning days where we've set up 15 stations, and they go from station to station in groups.
"They've done an excellent job of keeping their heads into what they're doing, but they're definitely champing at the bit right now."
Still, coaches are optimistic that, once they get outside and things get sorted out, the season will be very competitive. The Skyview boys proved the class of the peninsula last season, as did the Soldotna girls, and the rest of the peninsula's schools will be looking to unseat them as they gear up for the region tournament, to be hosted by Kenai.
"I think it should be good competition," Siemers said. "We had a makeshift tournament with some of the other teams last weekend. It was good to look and see how other teams are doing it'll be some good competition"
Coach Mickey Todd said 28 players came out for the team this year, led by a group of five seniors including Chantrelle Cousins, Candi Findino, Jess Riley, Rene Rykaczewski and Kendra Steiner.
"We've also got a good group of incoming freshmen and some strong returning juniors."
Todd said his squad has been dealing well with playing in the gym.
Skyview's Sean Mallette, pictured in a game last season, will return this year.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"They just have fun, which makes it that much more fun for me to coach," Todd said.
Todd said that after struggling at the region tournament last year, the Mariners have better learned how to play as a team. Their defense has always been stingy, and Todd is hoping the team will be able to add some scoring punch.
In the meantime, the Mariners have been doing plenty of skills work. Todd said many of his players play other sports he encourages it so for some, this is the first time they've touched a ball since last season.
KENAI CENTRAL KARDINALS
The Kardinals were a young squad last season, and while this year's team is heavy on juniors and sophomores, coach Dan Verkuilen said there's a bit more experience out on the pitch.
"Last year, out of 21 players, 17 were freshmen and sophomores. I was really impressed with how they came through. They did pretty good as a young team and those sophomores make up a pretty good junior list this year," Verkuilen said.
This year's tri-captains include seniors Heather McIntyre and Laura Moore and junior Chelsea Harris. Other seniors making varsity for the first time include Sheila Morena and Krista Jackson.
Lindsey Fortney is a junior returning to the lineup, as are sophomores Haley Wisniewski, Keely Boyle and Haley Mishler. Goalkeeper Kassi Kiel is a sophomore, though Verkuilen said she's been getting competition from freshman Whitney Ischi. Freshman Taylor Brewer and sophomore Sam Calderwood also are looking to crack the varsity lineup.
"We'll still be heavy on freshmen and sophomores, but we're a little bigger on the junior list," Verkuilen said. "In the few weeks now that we've worked together, I've been really impressed with their work ethic. They've set some good team goals."
Coach Richard Kelso said turnout was good for this year's team, which lost just two players to graduation from last season's roster.
"It's a young team but ready to work hard," Kelso said. "I'm looking forward to the season. I'm optimistic and enthusiastic."
Kelso said he would be looking to Amber Delago, Whitney Hitchcock, Tina Patterson and Genni Darr to provide a spark in the field while Sarah Herrin will be minding the goal.
"We've got a lot of freshmen coming in as well, 10 freshman, which is very nice, too," Kelso said.
Kelso said his training as a physical education teacher has come in handy as he tries to keep the team active and focused in the confines of the gym.
"I'm able to get them on task and have some fun," Kelso said. "I think they're actually very excited about playing soccer."
Coach Laura Beck said some of the early enthusiasm has been dampened by confinement indoors even the parking lot the Seahawks usually are able to practice on is still covered in ice.
Still, Beck is excited for the season to get under way. The Seahawks are led by five seniors, including attacking players Elsa Gaule and Emma Seigel, midfield and defensive players Shannon Hohl and Andrea Bailey, and sweeper-stopper Katie Ernst.
"With those girls being the heart of the team, we've got some excellent kids coming up from the JV group, and a couple of new kids playing for the first time this year," Beck said. "I'm looking forward to the other girls showing me what they have. We have some sophomores and some juniors that are loving the game but just haven't had enough playing time."
Beck also said new assistant coach Dr. Paul Foreman has brought a wealth of soccer knowledge and experience to the squad. She also vowed that the team would practice outside this week, no matter what it took.
"It's the first time in a long time we've waited this long to get outside, even in the parking lot," Beck said.
Coach Tony Lewis has had to be creative as he runs practices for 45 players in a small space the Skyview commons area as flooding has made the gym unusable.
"We just do a lot of little ball skill stuff, some conditioning, and I'm having everybody work on goalie stuff," Lewis said. "Every year, this part of the year is just keeping people entertained."
Returning players to watch include Ginny Berg, a forward who could see time in the midfield, sweeper Laura Smith, forwards Amber Kunz and Marina Holt, and midfielder Jaime Miller. Lewis also said Nikki Flanders and Jenna Standridge also should see plenty of varsity playing time.
"For us, the key this year is filling the center midfield positions," Lewis said. "We lost two key players, so if we can figure out a few of these girls to fill those positions we should have a good team.
"But we won't know until we get outside and start playing games."
Soldotna will be in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season, as the Stars lost both Region III MVP Jennifer Senette and all-region performer Erin Wolfe to graduation. The only peninsula team to win a game at the region tournament last season, SoHi will need some new players to step up in order to make a run at state this year.
Homer coach Mike Olson said his team is getting ready for the season by practicing inside and running laps around town not an ideal way to prepare for a game meant to be played on grass.
"If I had my way, we'd be on the field," Olson said. "We're all a little cabin crazy and ready to get outside."
Homer's field is pretty much clear of snow, but Olson said the borough won't allow his team to get on the natural surface until it's dried out. He said he's not sure when that will be, but he's hopeful the field will be in satisfactory shape by next weekend's scheduled showdown with Houston.
"We have a game scheduled, so I hope we can get out there," he said.
Olson is anxious to see what his team can do, especially considering that he's got a veteran lineup returning that he thinks has a chance to make the state tournament.
"We're definitely senior dominated," he said.
Olson said this year's squad will be led by the likes of seniors Llosh Winne, Brady Boone and Max Drathman.
"We've got some good, solid leadership," Olson said.
In addition, younger players like Justin Adams, A.J. Isenhour and Joe Hoanin are also expected to make contributions this year.
Olson said he believes that mix of young and old may hold the key to Homer reaching its goal of advancing to the next level the state tournament.
"I think we have an excellent chance."
The surge in youth soccer in the area is beginning to pay off in Kenai, according to coach Dave Landry.
"You can definitely tell with every freshman class, they have a little bit more skill," Landry said. "Youth programs locally are really starting to pay dividends."
Landry said he's excited about this year's squad, if for no other reason than the enthusiasm it shows for soccer.
"We had an awful lot of freshmen come out," Landry said, noting that Kenai saw more than 50 players show up for tryouts.
Along with the large freshman class, Landry said Kenai will rely on some key returning players for leadership this season, including Geoffery Gemmell, Jose Arroyo, Cory Whitley, Ju Kim and goalkeeper Tyler Morris.
Although Kenai like the rest of the peninsula schools has been hampered by an inability to get outside, Landry said the large group of kids has made for a lot of competition in practice so far.
"There's an awful lot of competition," he said.
Despite his enthusiasm for the upcoming season, Landry said he, too, is frustrated by the long winter.
"It's hard on the kids' legs," he said.
While they to hit the pitch, Landry said Kenai players are doing as much as they can to get in shape for the season.
"We're just trying to get them as many touches on the ball as we can," he said. "That's basically it at this juncture."
Landry said Kenai's main goal is to get outside and get going, where the young Kardinals will be better able to start finding an identity. He said instead of using the slow start to the season as an excuse, he's looking at it as a learning experience for his players.
"I keep telling them, 'It's not where you are at the beginning, it's where you are at the end,'" he said.
Coach Jim Coburn said that he lost quite a few players from last year's team to graduation, be he had quite few returners among the 32 players out for the team this season.
"We're just looking forward to having some grass to play on and starting some games," Coburn said.
Leading the way for the Bulldogs will be seniors Nick Russell, Chris Love, Chauncy Seater, Ryan Swanson and Brett Allemann. Juniors Travis McGahan, Zack McIrvin, Robert Doty, Travis McCaughey and Ben Kellie will be making contributions. Sophomore Rick Miller has earned the starting goalkeeper duties, and Coburn also expects Israel Blatchford and Jared Mazurek to fill roles on the field.
Coburn said his players have kept a positive attitude while waiting for the snow to melt, and added that he continues to see skill levels improve on the peninsula.
"I think all the schools get better every year," Coburn said. "We had a little indoor tournament last week, and all the schools looked like the skill level was pretty high."
After failing to make the Region III tournament last season, the Seahawks will be looking for a better finish this year.
Coach Dave Carpenter said his group of 37 players has remained positive despite the frustrations of practicing in odd places at odd times.
"They're pretty fired up, and there's a lot of hope that soon it's going to break," Carpenter said.
Carpenter said he would be counting on returning all-region players Trevor Barber, a midfielder, and goalie Matt Stalnick to lead the squad, and also had high expectations for Elliott Gauthier, Tyler Thorton, Chatchay Apaipak, Kyle Eshelman, Sean Mallette and Jacob Gauthier. Carpenter also said Swiss exchange student Sebastien Spicher should help the team.
Carpenter said quite a few of his players have been playing with club teams over the summer and kept their skills sharp by playing in the gym two or three times a week all winter.
"I think this is one year where we're coming in with a lot of people looking at us," Carpenter said. "People are expecting a lot out of this team. Hopefully, we'll put on a good show."
Coach Jeff Siemers said he had about 45 players out for the team, including a large group of younger players that should see quite a bit of varsity time.
Siemers said he is counting on seniors Johnny Mills, Dan Ghormley and Hunter Sirois to provide leadership for the team.
"Overall, our goal is to be doing well in the region tournament," Siemers said. "Right now, we're trying to stay focused despite being indoors."
Siemers said he had a nice group of sophomores coming up, and added that the skill level continues to rise.
Clarion reporter Matt Tunseth contributed to this story.
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