2017 Chugiak-Eagle River prep soccer previews
It’s not uncommon for a high school student to play multiple sports — for example, football and wrestling or basketball and soccer. But football games aren’t contested on a wrestling mat, and soccer isn’t played in a gym.
Until this year, that is.
“It’s been pretty tough,” said Chugiak girls soccer player Carson Head.
Head’s words were punctuated by the squeak of sneakers as her teammates ran through drills on Chugiak’s gym floor. Rather than practicing outside in the spring sunshine, the team was again going through the motions of pretending to play a wide-open game in a confined space. Like every team in the Cook Inlet Conference, the Mustangs’ season was delayed by about a month due to the collapse of The Dome in Anchorage and late-thawing soccer pitches.
Matches finally got underway Tuesday, April 18, with a marathon slate of games at Chugiak’s Ed Blahous Field at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.
Head said players tried to make the best of the stuttering start, working on their footwork and precision inside the tight indoor confines.
“It forces you to play a lot faster,” she said.
The loss of a month means the season will be severely truncated, with an entire conference schedule crammed into a month. With the season finally underway, here’s a look a look at what each team expects from what promises to be what one coach called a “fast and furious” regular season.
Head coach: Franklin Lawson
2016 record: 5-7-2 (5th place Cook Inlet Conference)
Chugiak’s players say they’re fired up to be playing under Lawson, a first-year coach whose name is likely familiar to those familiar with the Alaska club soccer scene.
A youth coach and former pro who played in several U.S. leagues in the 1980s, Lawson has been coming from his home in Atlanta to Alaska for several years to coach at soccer camps, and this spring he took over as technical director of the Chugiak Soccer Club. He also took the job leading a Chugiak program hoping to break into the upper half of the Cook Inlet Conference this season.
“We’re very lucky to have him,” said center midfielder Carson Head, a junior who will serve as co-captain with goalie Marissa Carroll, a second-team all-CIC performer last season.
Carroll said Lawson has brought high expectations to the team, an attitude the players have embraced.
“It really gets you going,” she said.
When he arrived at Chugiak, Lawson said he sat his players down and told them he could either go easy on them or coach them to their full potential. The kids didn’t hesitate in asking to be coached, he said.
“And it’s been nice, because they have responded,” said Lawson, who still retains his thick New Jersey accent despite spending three decades in Atlanta. “They have been really receptive.”
Seeing his players develop their skills, he said, is his biggest reward.
“It’s nice to hear at the end of practice, ‘Thanks, coach,’” he said.
An avid fisherman, Lawson said he’s excited about his move to the Last Frontier. He said he drives out to Chugiak from his home on the Southside — a half-hour commute that’s downright leisurely for someone used to the infamously chaotic traffic in the ATL.
“I’ve always enjoyed it up here. The air is so clean, the water is so fresh,” he said.
As for his squad, Lawson said the Mustangs are rapidly improving and have a chance to surprise teams in the CIC this season.
“We want to go head-to-head with these South Anchorage teams,” he said.
The Mustangs’ first crack at a Southside school showed the team still has work to do as South posted a 5-1 CIC win at Chugiak. Head scored the lone goal for Chugiak, which plays Eagle River at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20.
EAGLE RIVER GIRLS
Head coach: Laura Gardner
2016 record: 3-11-1 (6th place CIC)
Eagle River actually snuck a game in way back on March 24 when the team traveled to Colony to play on the Knights’ windblown turf, the first to be snow-free in the Mat-Su. Although her team was far from its best, head coach Laura Gardner said she was encouraged by the Wolves’ 2-1 loss.
“I had some girls really step up and play in roles with a lot more responsibilities than they’ve ever had,” Gardner said.
Despite putting four freshmen in the starting lineup, Gardner said the team didn’t lose its composure or organization.
“The biggest takeaway was they did figure it out,” she said.
Gardner said her team has a mix of young players and veterans, with a large sophomore class and a core handful of seniors. That group includes a pair of four-year players who were both second-team all-CIC last season in Jessie Scott and Mallory Garbe.
“They’ve been pretty integral pieces of the team,” Gardner said.
Garbe got the Wolves’ season off on the right foot when she scored twice in the first four minutes Tuesday to lead the Wolves to a 2-1 Cook Inlet Conference season-opening win over Bartlett at Chugiak.
Gardner said both players will roam the field in a variety of roles. Scott in particular, she said, will be relied on to play wherever the Wolves need her most.
“She’ll play anywhere I tell her,” she said.
The Wolves will also benefit from the addition of sophomore Nicole Bedwell, who transferred to Eagle River last year but had to sit out a season due to state transfer rules.
Eagle River will likely experiment at the back somewhat, with freshmen Brooklyn Carver and Ashlynn Walker both seeing time in the net. Gardner said both will likely see the field in some capacity, with the goalie role decided as the season progresses.
“They’re both strong and willing to work hard,” she said.
Four teams in the CIC (Dimond, Service, West and South) finished with at least eight wins last season, and Gardner said a top-half finish would be an optimistic goal for her team this year. But she doesn’t see any reason why the Wolves can’t pick up wins against the second-tier of CIC teams that don’t typically boast rosters packed with elite club-level players.
“I don’t see any reason why on any given day we couldn’t beat any of those teams,” she said.
Head coach: Matt Miller
2016 record: 6-9-0 (6th place CIC)
The 2017 season will be a mysterious one, said Chugiak head coach Matt Miller.
“It’s hard to tell what we have until we get out there and play,” said Miller after watching his team complete its first outdoor practice of the season on April 17 at Chugiak.
Miller said the delayed season has been tough on everyone equally.
“Everybody’s in the same situation,” he said.
Miller’s team finished sixth in the CIC last season, but the Mustangs did post late-season wins over two teams — Dimond and Bartlett — that finished higher in the standings.
“We’re just trying to improve every season,” he said. “With the goal obviously to make it to state.”
Although a berth in finish in the top three spots at the CIC tournament would be a major accomplishment, Miller said his main goal in the early season will be keeping everyone healthy.
“We’re going to just try to get through injury free,” he said.
With teams playing as many as three matches each week between now and the CIC tournament, Miller said rest and recovery will be at a premium. That could mean giving players fewer minutes on the pitch or making practices less demanding.
“They’re just going to have to manage their game time,” he said.
Chugiak lost first-team all-CIC defender Peter Haines and second-team utility player Colten Bell to graduation. But second-team forward Zach Macalino should bring some firepower to the Mustangs’ attack, and Miller said Max Hartke in the central midfield will be a player to keep an eye on. Chugiak also has a veteran keeper in junior Ryan Lebo, who stood in net last year for a team that gave up just under two goals a game in conference play last year.
Chugiak was one of six CIC teams to win at least six conference games last year, and Miller said he’s expecting a competitive league again this year. The top teams could wind up being the ones who keep their players on the field.
“It’s going to be fast and furious.”
Chugiak’s CIC season got underway Tuesday with a 4-0 loss to South at Chugiak. The Mustangs face Eagle River at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at Chugiak’s Ed Blahous Field.
EAGLE RIVER BOYS
Head coach: Steve Johnson
2016 record: 1-13-0 (7th place CIC)
Former Wolves assistant Steve Johnson is in his first season as the head coach after longtime coach Eric Dearborn stepped aside following a 1-13-0 CIC season in 2016.
Johnson said not much will change as far as how he runs the team, and the fact he already knows the players has made for a seamless transition.
“It’s maybe just a little different flavor,” he said.
Like other coaches, Johnson said his team has struggled with a lack of outdoor training. While that’s a problem for everyone, it has a particularly striking impact on small programs like Eagle River’s, which has fewer than 40 players spread between its varsity and junior varsity.
“We’ve got an extremely short bench,” he said.
While the Wolves lack depth, Johnson said the team’s talent level continues to improve. While a few years ago the team may have had one or two players playing year-round, now the Wolves have eight or 10.
“Our player pool is definitely different than it was four years ago,” he said.
Johnson said many of his players were on an indoor team in the winter, which dramatically helps players improve.
“We work a lot on team unity and culture and concentrate on the process and trying to play the game as well as we can,” he said.
Johnson said there’s no reason to believe his team can’t take points away from just about any team in the CIC.
“If we can keep enough players on the field we will have periods of time where we will play the game as well as any team in the conference,” he said. “It’s just a matter of if we can sustain that for 80 minutes and get a result.”
The Wolves will use three senior captains in Dylan Johnson and twins Dawson and Jordan Porter. Johnson — one of two of the coach’s sons on the team — will control the defense from his center back position, while the Porter brothers will play in the midfield with sophomore Torsten Renner and frosh Andrew Hamilton. Coach Johnson said he’s also got a group of five juniors who have been playing varsity since their freshman year as well.
“These guys should all have some good chemistry,” he said.
Juniors Joey Herr and Brandon Lewis-Clark will play up front, with utility player Jilito Ramos roaming. Junior defender Seth Hard will see time in the back, as will returning sophomore Tanner Johnson. The Wolves will also find a role for exchange student Krzysztof Warych, who landed in Eagle River this year from Poland.
Goalies Ray Musick and Ty Hoopes will both get time in net.
Johnson said his team will likely struggle with consistency.
“From one game to the next you could see a dramatically different team,” he said.
The Wolves opened their CIC season with a 4-0 loss to Bartlett Tuesday at Chugiak. Eagle River faces Chugiak at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at CHS.