Soccer and surfing may seem like an odd mix, but several dozen Juneau youths will be looking to get their fill of both over the next week.
Three Juneau Soccer Club teams are in Hawaii to compete at the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships in Honolulu. It's a trip they earned last August when they won their respective divisions at the State Cup tournament in Fairbanks.
The boys U-14 Juneau Jaguars are making their second straight trip to the region tourney. As a U-13 squad last season, the Jaguars competed in Salt Lake City and emerged with an 0-2-1 record.
Joining the Jaguars in Hawaii are the U-13 boys Juneau Riptide team and the U-13 girls Juneau Xtratuffs squad.
Games start on Sunday, but the teams arrived in Hawaii this week to acclimate to the warm weather, scrimmage with other squads and enjoy all that the islands have to offer. Each team will play at least three tourney games.
The tournament includes teams from 13 Western states, with California split into northern and southern regions. The Jaguars will play Southern California, Washington and Hawaii. The Riptide will face New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. And the Xtratuffs will play Southern California, Washington and Northern California.
Southern California and Colorado are traditionally among the top teams in the entire country.
"It's too bad we couldn't play Wyoming and New Mexico," Xtratuffs player Kirsten Jorgensen said.
"We just hope it rains, because California won't know what to do," teammate Jenna Rutecki said.
While there is some anxiety over facing elite teams, coaches and players said they want to see how they match up against the best.
"The bad news is it's going to be hard," Jaguars coach Mark Kelley said of facing Southern California. "The good news is that how many times in your life do you get to play the No. 1 team in the nation?"
Jaguars player Jamaal Bailey said he's looking forward to the strong competition.
"It's going to be really intense, but it's going to be a lot of fun, too," he said. "I can't wait to play them. It's going to be fast."
The teams have had to work fast to get ready after a long winter hiatus. While other states held their tournaments in spring as immediate lead-ins to the Hawaii tourney, Alaska's late spring dictates that teams play the state tournament the previous August - and then wait all winter.
"Basically, you start over again (in spring)," Riptide coach Rod Flynn said. "Building for June is difficult with school going on. We've worked hard, and the guys have come along."
Xtratuffs coach Tom Rutecki said his team had a detailed winter training and conditioning plan. Xtratuffs player Alison Bremner said she and her teammates kept fitness journals, and many players from all three teams competed on indoor soccer teams over the winter.
In addition to physical training, the players also spent a lot of time raising money to cover travel costs.
While soccer is at the heart of their trip, the players said they are looking forward to spending free time on the beach or shopping in Honolulu. And, of course, many said they'll be trying their luck at catching a wave.
While the three teams will often be playing at the same time on different fields over the next week, the players and coaches said it will be nice to have a large Juneau contingent in Honolulu.
"We'll get support from the crowds while playing," Riptide player Isaac Stark said.
"It brings that familiarity, and the Juneau parents are great fans," Flynn said. "We'll probably have more parents there than any other club."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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