Low tides good for more than clams

Reluctant breakup once again forces soccer teams to find creative ways to practice

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2000

In other parts of the world, they play soccer on the beach to break up the monotony of training on the same pitch every day.

Here on the Kenai Peninsula, they play soccer on the beach because they're still enduring the monotony of breakup.

"They were all glad to be out here today. They were all smiling," said Kenai Central High School girls soccer coach Dan Verkuilen after the Kardinals completed their first training session on the beach.

"They're happy to be out in the fresh air, and on a larger field."

A cooperative low tide has allowed the Kardinals to get some touches on the ball on a relatively flat, relatively smooth and -- most importantly -- relatively snow-free surface.

"It's a great chance to get some drills pressed into their heads," Verkuilen said.

The Homer Mariners also are practicing on the beach, taking advantage of the low tides in Homer.

"We're taking advantage of what Homer's given us, and that's low tides," said Homer girls coach Harry Rasmussen. "We've been able to get out on the beach -- it sure beats being inside."

Elsewhere on the peninsula, high school soccer teams are making the most of the space available while they wait for the snow to recede from the playing fields.

On any given day during the past week, a soccer fan might have found the Soldotna team practicing on the outdoor hockey rink -- the ice has melted off that -- beside the school, or the Skyview Panthers running some drills in the gym.

"It's not easy to practice in a gym with 40 kids for three weeks," said Skyview girls coach Tony Lewis. "We've had to alter the way we practice."

Lewis has been able to split his team into groups -- some run drills in the gym, while others do some fitness work outside. Lewis said that the Panthers have used an aerobics tape and a pool session to keep things fresh while waiting for the snow to melt.

Gyms have been particularly cramped due to a better-than-expected turnout. Many coaches said they had to make cuts for the first time to keep the number of players within a manageable range.

Some credited the interest to last year's Women's World Cup, while others cited the Boys and Girls Club summer program for fostering soccer in the community.

While starting off in the gym has had some drawbacks, it does have some advantages.

"Practicing in close quarters helps with tight, pattern passing," said Skyview boys coach Dave Carpenter.

"Each day is a creative practice," said Nikiski girls coach Richard Kelso. "We don't like to do too much of the same stuff.

"We can do the skills end of things, it's the position things we can't get to in the gym."

Skyview may be the closest of any of the peninsula schools to being able to get out onto the pitch as the fields were cleared earlier this spring.

"It's going to be a little while before the snow around the edges melts," Carpenter said. "Then there's that big ol' pond that forms right in the middle. I was out the other day and saw a couple of mallards sitting on it."

The Panthers will spend some time draining the field, and are optimistic that the pitch will be playable for their April 20 opener against Nikiski.

Seward boys coach Marvin Tapsfield wasn't quite so optimistic about the Seahawks' home field.

"There's still about eight inches of snow on the fields," Tapsfield said. "We had scheduled mostly home games, but that's all been changed around. Our field opens up later than others."

Evaluating the field conditions has been one thing, but handicapping the rest of the region has been quite another.

"Right now, it's just rumorville as to who's got what," Carpenter said of the boys teams. "Soldotna's added some players, and they're going to be really good. I think Nikiski's got the hottest goalkeeper on the peninsula in (Jamie) Queen -- he's going to be a factor.

"Homer's probably the best passing team on the peninsula."

"It's impossible to imagine what other teams are putting out there," said Kenai boys coach Dave Landry. "The big barometer is that everybody wants to take care of business at home, then start to beat the Valley teams on a regular basis. We're starting to play better soccer, and the next notch is beating the (Anchorage) teams."

Rasmussen is anticipating another entertaining clash between Homer and Kenai on the girls side of things.

"Kenai has really battled us -- they've been our nemesis here on the peninsula," Rasmussen said, "and any time you go up against a Valley team, you're in for a battle."

"They take three teams for state," Verkuilen said. "With all the competition, it's not going to be an easy three."

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