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Story Last modified at 10:57 a.m. on Thursday, March 17, 2011

Eagle River boys get serious about soccer
New high of 45 players try out for team

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:Sports

Eagle River's Mikai Hulse rips a shot past teammate Curtis Guyer during a scrimmage held on March 12 at The Dome in Anchorage. Hulse is a senior and one of two team captains back from last season.
STAR PHOTOS BY MATT TUNSETH

Eagle River's boys soccer team is starting to carve out its identity.

"We've got a big group of young kids who are more pure soccer players and not just multi-sport athletes," explained coach Luke Almon after practice last week.

In years past, much of the Wolves' roster was made up of kids who only dabbled in soccer. But now, many of the team's top players bring a soccer-first mentality to the pitch.

Senior midfielder Mikai Hulse said he thinks that will make a big difference in the team's play.

"We have a lot of soccer-talented players this year," Hulse said.

Hulse and defenseman Eric Mora are the team's top returning players this season. Both were team captains a season ago, and Almon said both are likely candidates for the distinction again this season. Also back is Jordan Oberlander, another senior who was the team's primary goaltender last season.

"We have a lot of guys who are able to play well and play together," Hulse said.

In all, Almon said he had about 45 players try out for the club.

"That's the biggest number we've had here," he said.

With a veteran goalie firmly entrenched, a senior defenseman holding down the back line and Hulse in the middle to direct traffic, Almon said he's got a decent framework to build around. But you've got to score goals to win soccer matches.

"Our challenge is up front," he said.

The coach said he has "four or five guys" in mind to play forward, but hasn't yet decided which is ready to take on the role of striker.

Soccer practice began last week, and teams don't get a lot of time to round into shape, with the first games of the season set for next week. Eagle River's campaign begins on March 22 against West at 6:30 p.m. at The Dome in Anchorage.

The quick start to the season is because the Anchorage School District moved up the first games of the year in order to get more time in at The Dome. It also means fewer preseason days to get in the required number of practices.

"This year there will be some teams that are playing with skeleton crews, for sure," he said.

Still, Almon said the change – which means five games will be played indoors instead of three – is good for his team. Eagle River won't be as short on players as some teams, he said.

"I think we'll benefit from the guaranteed Dome games," he said.

Eagle River finished seventh in the Cook Inlet Conference last season and lost in the first round of the CIC tournament. But Almon said he thinks the Wolves' soccer-first mentality could help the squad move up in the standings.

"We have a chance to be a little more competitive," he said. "On paper it's looking good for us."

Mikai Hulse said he's excited for the season. With a team stocked with veteran leaders and youngsters with high soccer IQ's, Hulse said this could be a breakout year for the squad.

"We definitely have a stronger group than we've had in the past," he said. "The atmosphere has been really good."

Contact Matt Tunseth at matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com or 694-2727



This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, March 17, 2011.