With 13 seniors and more than half of its junior varsity and varsity soccer teams made up of underclassmen, Kenai Central's present and future should be strong for years to come.
"We're really heavily dominated with seniors this year," Kards head coach David Landry said. "We're really blessed this year."
With several end-of-the-year events, like prom and graduation, coming up, Landry said it will be crucial for his seniors to stay focused for a successful season.
"As with any senior-laden team, it's all going to be a matter of can the seniors overcome any difficulties associated with the last sport of the year," he said.
Kenai will use last season as motivation for this year, Landry said. The Kards failed to earn a state tournament berth in 2009.
"Our season kind of ended with a thud," Landry said. The team does not want to repeat history, he said.
Eleven seniors -- Justin Calhoun, A.J. Ewing, Vincent Madrid, Michael Morin, Jeff Narlock, Tim Saner, Brady Perkins, Logan Sutton, Oliver Kiech, Dominic Eubank and Bryson Lowe -- are all returners with varsity playing time. Senior Nick Rouswell played as a freshman and is back this year. Jorge Rios, a foreign exchange student from Chile, rounds out the seniors for Kenai.
"We have a lot of enthusiastic kids," Landry said. "They're chomping at the bit."
Landry said his team's success starts on the defensive side of the field.
"A successful program for us has always begun in the back," he said. "Defensively, we have some really tough characters back there."
Ewing is one such player.
"He can be a real force back there," Landry said.
Lowe, the keeper, is another key to Kenai's success.
"Bryson is much more than just solid," Landry said.
Kenai will miss the scoring touch of Codi Woodcock this year. He now attends Service High School in Anchorage.
With about 40 kids total, Kenai's JV team should also be strong, Landry said. He said most of the freshmen and sophomores will play together on JV so as to prepare for next year when the JV team becomes the varsity squad.
"It takes awhile to mature these kids," Landry said. "It takes a special type of player to make that transition seamlessly."
Sophomore Evan Atchley is showing he can play with the upperclassmen, Landry said.
"He's a kid that's very likely going to see some varsity time," he said.
Soldotna lost eight starters from last season. Head coach Jeff Siemers said he will rely on seniors Blaine Carver, the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year and Northern Lights Conference MVP, Jeff Mullen and Braden Cresap, formerly Braden Knowlton. "They've all seen the state tournament every year," Siemers said. "That's gonna be a goal for this team, to make it again this year."
The Stars lost to Dimond and Colony at state last year.
Many of SoHi's starters this year haven't seen much varsity playing time, Siemers said.
"We're gonna have to come together and build a team that's not based off of last year," he said.
Siemers, in his ninth year of coaching, said there should be a lot of parity in the region this season.
"It will be a tough region this year," he said. "The Valley teams will be strong. We always have good rivalries with the local peninsula teams. But nothing is ever for sure.
"We're just looking forward to a good season."
After one year at the helm of the girls program, Rustin Hitchcock will switch places with David Carpenter and assume the head coaching duties for Skyview's boys. Just four returners are back for the Panthers, Hitchcock said.
Those players are Bryce Wilson, Chad Oakes, TJ Checketts and Brandon Jones.
"We're really athletic this year," Hitchcock said.
But with so few returners, the Panthers don't have many players with varsity playing time.
"We're very fresh with soccer," Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock said he will depend on his eight seniors and one junior.
"With leadership from our seniors and junior, we should put together a pretty solid season," he said.
In the region, SoHi, Nikiski and Kenai are always tough, Hitchcock said.
SkyHi's goal is to make the region tournament.
"We're gonna aim for regions," Hitchcock said. "We'll continue to try to outhustle everyone."
With three seniors and nine juniors returning, Nikiski has plenty of varsity experience coming back this season. Those seniors include Calvin Williams, Bob Seater and Jordan Harrison.
That experience will be key for success, said head coach Jim Coburn.
"It helps a lot," he said. "It is nice to have a returning group like that."
Between junior varsity and varsity, the Bulldogs have 41 kids playing soccer, Coburn said.
"That's a real good number," he said.
Nikiski will look to make it to regions this year, Coburn said.
"I think that's always our goal every year," he said.
Coburn has the Kardinals as the team to beat in the region due to their large senior class.
"They should be strong," he said. "Strength always goes with the seniors as far as I'm concerned."
Third-year head coach Warren Waldorf has eight returners that lettered last season. Seniors Mark Walsworth and Cole Jacobsen are the key guys coming back, he said.
Waldorf cited Kenai, SoHi, Wasilla and Colony as perennial soccer powers, but couldn't say for sure who the top team is.
"I have no idea," he said. "We're down at the end of the road here."
Waldorf said his goal is to have a team that can play evenly with opposing schools.
"We're just trying to be competitive," he said. "We aim for a .500 season."
This year, the number of kids playing soccer has been the highest since Waldorf started coaching, he said.
All spring sports have seen an increase at Homer, he said.
"I'm really happy to see all the kids out playing," Waldorf said.
Waldorf said he hopes to continue to see those numbers grow.
"We try to give them a quality experience and try to be competitive," he said.
Seward has just one senior returner and six total returners. The lone senior is captain Joe Nyholm.
"He's a leader out there," said Seahawks head coach Dustin Phillips.
Sophomore goalie John Treece is another key member of the team, he said. Treece suffered a lacerated liver at the end of last season. But he's back in the net and healthy, Phillips said.
"We're looking for good things from him this year," he said.
Kenai, SoHi and Grace Christian typically have strong teams, Phillips said.
"Soldotna has always kind of been one of the top teams that we've played against," he said.
With several younger players, Phillips said he just wants to use this season to give them experience playing at the varsity level.
"It would be great to make it to regions," he said. "After the last few years we've had, it'd be nice to get a win or two."
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