Six Juneau soccer teams are in Fairbanks today for the start of the 2002 State Cup tournament, and hopes are high for the players to build on success they earned in last year's event.
Three boys squads - the U-13 Riptide, U-14 Jaguars and U-15 Orcas - and three girls teams - the U-13 XtraTufs, U-14 Titans and U-15/16 Quicksilver - are representing Juneau at this year's tourney, which begins today and runs through Sunday.
At last year's tourney, the Jaguars won a state title - the first Juneau boys team and just the second Juneau team ever to do so - and earned a trip to a regional tournament this past June in Utah. Two other teams - the XtraTufs and the Quicksilver - took second place in their divisions.
This year, the stakes are a bit higher.
"The competitiveness of this State Cup is going to be high," said Quicksilver coach Leslie Houston. "The regionals are going to be in Hawaii."
"We want to go to Hawaii," Riptide player Colin Flynn said. "That's motivation."
The Jaguars will be trying to defend their title. Coach Mark Kelley said teams they upset in last year's State Cup will be eager to get another shot at the Juneau squad. The Jaguars beat Northern Lights of Anchorage to win the title last year.
"No one knew us last year, and now we're the ones everyone is going to be aiming for," he said. "We're no longer the secret."
The Quicksilver and the XtraTufs are looking to improve on their second-place finishes.
Houston said she's confident in her team's chances going into the tourney. The team lost to the Alaska Goldstrikers of Anchorage in last year's final.
"They're playing beautifully, and have a real vision for the game," she said.
XtraTufs coach Tom Rutecki said his team is looking forward to a rematch with the Fairbanks Eclipse, who beat them in last year's title game.
"We're pretty excited about it," he said. "It's a chance to get even."
The Orcas did not participate in last year's State Cup, opting to play in a Minnesota tournament that was held the same weekend.
Coach Dave Wetzel said team captain Dylan Ashe has been sidelined by injury, but the team is coming together to fill the void.
"They're just as strong of a team," he said. "They just play a little differently. It changes the complexion of our team."
The Titans and the Riptide both reached the semifinals of last year's State Cup before being eliminated from the tourney.
Titans coach Jamie Waste said the team drew a tough bracket this year, but their hopes are high.
"They've improved a lot," he said. "They did a lot of work to do to do better at state. ... They're playing great soccer right now, and anything can happen. They're peaking at a good moment."
Riptide coach Rod Flynn said his team - and all the Juneau kids - are anxious to begin this year's tournament.
"It's what we look forward to," he said. "It's definitely the highlight of the season."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.