In the last couple of weeks in Moscow, Idaho, hundreds of the best girls soccer players in the country gathered to play in a series of games.
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The Region IV Olympic Development Program pits the top players from 14 western states, including Alaska, against each other as the U.S. Youth Soccer administration looks for a future Mia Hamm.
The ODP games also served as a coming-out party for Alaska. After years of building its infrastructure and growing the game among the state's youth, Alaska is starting to hold its own among Region IV's more established states.
Four different players from the Alaska girls ODP, including Juneau-Douglas High School student Margaret Sekona, were selected for the 35-player Region IV team pool. This places Sekona and her three compatriots among elite company in U.S. Youth Soccer.
"Last year, I got a girl from Eagle River selected to the pool," said JDHS girls soccer co-coach and Alaska ODP director Colin Barton. "This year, I've got four players on different pool teams. Soccer in Alaska is no longer the joke it used to be."
In the next couple of months, a team will be selected from the pool to compete against the other three regions in Boca Raton, Fla., over Thanksgiving weekend.
According to Barton, Sekona is the first Juneau player ever to reach this level in the ODP system. Sekona was chosen on Friday from a pool of players born in 1990.
Sekona has honed her skills as a lethal striker in a short time. In her freshman and sophomore years with the Crimson Bears, Sekona scored a team-high 50 goals.
In Idaho, Sekona scored a team-high three goals as her Alaska '90s team finished with a 0-2-1 record.
"She worked really hard before this camp and as you can see it paid off well for her," Barton said.
Joining Sekona in the Region IV pool team is Anchorage's Carly Butcher and Maggie McGuire, along with Alev Kelter of Eagle River.
Juneau-Douglas High School goalkeeper Kayla Walton also played for the Alaska '90s, earning a shutout in an invitational game at the camp.
Meanwhile, the Alaska '89s went 3-1 at their ODP camp in Idaho from July 15-20.
On Sunday, JDHS student Audrey Wagner recorded an assist in a 3-0 win over Nevada. Lindsey Kato then had two assists on Monday in a 3-0 victory over United, a team of players from New Mexico and Idaho.
They finished with a 5-0 win over Hawaii as Crimson Bears standout Kirsten Jorgensen contributed an assist. Alaska '89s fell 4-0 to undefeated Colorado in the fourth and final game.
There are also two Juneau girls playing with the Alaska '93s team, which started its Region IV camp on Tuesday. Melissa Skan and Colby Nore are currently playing in Idaho.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org