Chugiak receiver Bekah Zellers makes a catch during flag football practice earlier this week at Chugiak High. Coach Jon Schroeder said nearly 90 girls the most ever are out for the sport this season.
STAR PHOTOs by matt tunseth
Eagle River's Maggie Bramhall tries to eleude teammate Maddie Corbett during Wolves' practice. Coach Matt Turner said numbers in his program are about a third of those at Chugiak.
STAR PHOTOs by matt tunseth
It's a tale of two turnouts in flag football, where Chugiak is awash in players while Eagle River doesn't have enough to field three full teams.
Neither team's coach has a good explanation for the phenomenon.
"Honestly, I have no idea," said Chugiak's Jon Schroeder, who had 88 girls come out for the girls-only sport.
Eagle River's Matt Turner said he can't explain why just 30 kids showed up at Eagle River, just a few miles down the road.
"I really don't know," he said.
The huge contrast in numbers has caused issues for both coaches. Turner said he won't be fielding a C team this season, meaning all of his freshmen players will have to begin at the junior varsity level.
"They're going to get tested right away," Turner said.
Schroeder has the opposite problem at Chugiak. The Anchorage School District doesn't allow teams to cut players in flag football, meaning Schroeder has to figure out a way to shuffle nearly 90 athletes between three teams in a sport where just seven players from each team are on the field at one time.
"It's tough to come out to practice every day and not ever get to play in a game," Schroeder said.
While he can rotate a lot of players in and out of the game at the C and junior varsity level, Schroeder said that's not the case on varsity meaning some players on the team rarely touch the field.
"This is a varsity sport, so there's no playing time guarantee," he said.
While having such a large group of kids out can present obstacles, Schroeder said he doesn't mind the perks such enthusiasm brings.
"Any time you have the type of talent that 90 girls presents it's a good problem to have," he said.
Chugiak finished 9-5 in the Cook Inlet Conference last season and lost in the first round of the conference playoffs. The team lost a number of key seniors to graduation, including all-conference quarterback Kendra Bulawa. But Schroeder said he's been pleased with what he's seen in practice from this year's team.
"I've been pleasantly surprised with some of the athleticism and speed that has showed up," he said.
Seniors Jessi McMullen, Mina Sayer, Erinn Scotland and Bekah Zellers are among the team's top returning varsity players, Schroeder said.
There's a lot of new faces on the team, but Schroeder said he's hopeful that the squad can come together by mid-season.
"I'm hoping that we can be one of those teams that blooms halfway through the year," he said.
Turner said he's excited about the players he has back at Eagle River.
"Basically the core of our varsity team is back," he said.
Gone is quarterback Michelle Wilson, but she'll be replaced by junior Skyler Metzel, who is moving from wide receiver and is one of the team's best athletes.
"We threatened her with moving to quarterback last year," Turner said.
Also back to run the ball are Megan Byman and Paulette Mordini, both seniors.
"The girls that we have are good, solid girls," he said.
Eagle River went winless during the regular season last year and fell in the first round of the playoffs. Turner said he thinks Dimond (which got more than 100 kids out this fall), East and Chugiak are the teams to beat in the conference. But he thinks the Wolves should be competitive.
"We've got a little bit more experience this year," he said. "We'll run 'em out there and see what happens."
The season begins for both teams on Tuesday, Aug. 23 when the Mustangs travel to Eagle River's turf field for an 8 p.m. showdown.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, August 17, 2011.