ANCHORAGE - Anchorage's Nunaka Valley All-Stars, a softball team of 12- and 13-year-olds, has advanced to the Little League World Series by winning the Western Region Tournament in Vancouver, Wash., over the weekend.
Nunaka Valley defeated North California 8-1 on Sunday and 6-0 on Wednesday. The Anchorage team had a perfect 6-0 in the tournament.
The Little League World Series will start Thursday in Portland, Ore., where the Anchorage girls will face other U.S. region champions plus teams from Asia, Latin America and Canada.
On Thursday, they will face the Southeast Region champions, a team from Georgia. Then they'll play the Asia-Pacific Region champs on Friday. Saturday brings a matchup with the European representatives from Italy.
Last year Nunaka Valley finished third at regionals, and pitcher Sidney Smith says they were determined to do better this year. So they practiced every day this summer, plus twice a week during the winter.
Richard Knowles has coached the team for the past six years and couldn't be more proud.
"It's the result of hard work, a lot of effort and dedication to the sport, so it's just a reward," he said by telephone. "You can't explain the feeling in knowing we're not only the best team in Alaska, we're the best team out of the whole Northwest.
Catcher Gabby Meyerson said she was really surprised by the team's success this year.
"I really didn't even think we'd win state, but then after we won state I just thought we weren't going to do as well. But then we came here and we won," she said.
At the national championships, the top two teams from each of the two polls advance to the semifinals on Aug. 18, and those games can be seen on ESPN2, as well as the championship on Aug. 19.
For teams that do not advance to the semifinals and the losers of the semis, there are consolation games on Aug. 19.
All games not televised by ESPN2 can be seen live on the Little League Softball World Series Web site.
In addition to Meyerson and Smith, the Nunaka Valley All-Stars include Erin Goudreau, Kaela Emerson, Metanoya Fiame, Mara Winningham, Morgan Hill, Heather Breslin, Jacynne Augafa, Taria Page, Hannah Peterson, Lauren Syrup and Julia Merritt.