Chugiak girls soccer players go through warm-up drills before practice on March 14 in the school's gym.
STAR PHOTOS BY MATT TUNSETH
It's state or bust for the Chugiak girls.
"Our ultimate goal is to win state," said Mustangs senior defender Kendra Bulawa before a recent practice in the school's gym.
Bulawa's talk isn't bluster. The 2007 state champions appear to have the horses to make a run this season, with a deep, headstrong group of returning players who've been working out together since before Christmas.
"We had a lot of good athletes last year, and we've got even more this year," she said.
Bulawa, who is set to play college ball at Division II Colorado School of Mines next season, said many players have been meeting all winter, going through self-imposed conditioning drills after school and playing together on comp teams.
"We play as a team," she said. "A lot of teams focus on one or two key players, but this team is really strong together more than they are as individuals."
The team's defensive star then paused for a moment.
"And then we do have Kelly Cobb," she finished.
Oh yeah, her.
Cobb, a senior who skipped her junior year of high school soccer to focus on her college preparation, will be back in blue and black after setting scoring records as a freshman and sophomore. Cobb signed on last month to play at Division I powerhouse Duke, and she is widely regarded as one of the nation's premier high school strikers (see page 15).
Bulawa said Cobb's scoring prowess (she scored 36 goals her sophomore season) will be a huge asset.
"That was one of our problems last year," Bulawa said. "We had a lot of talent, but we didn't have a lot of success putting the ball into the back of the net. But we know she can do it."
Cobb won't be eligible in Chugiak's season opener on March 22 against Dimond at The Dome, a game in which the Mustangs have a chance to avenge their overtime loss to Dimond in the third-place game of the CIC tournament. That loss kept Chugiak from the state tournament, which the Lynx went on to win.
But the Mustangs will have most of their key players in uniform, said coach Paul Brehmer. That list includes standout junior midfielder Susan Fleurant and junior goalie Becca Zellers.
"We've got a pretty good returning core," Brehmer said.
Brehmer said the team has a good mix of older players and new recruits, and pointed to a huge crop of 20 freshman as proof that the program has a bright future.
"So far the numbers are looking really good," he said.
Brehmer said he knows the squad looks good on paper. But they've still got to prove themselves on the pitch.
"A lot has to happen between now and then," he said.
Bulawa said she knows the squad has the work ethic to achieve its goal of bringing home a second state championship.
"That should be every team's goal, but I think this year we have a chance to actually do it," she said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at email@example.com or 694-2727 ext. 215
This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, March 17, 2011.