Even with spring-like weather, it’s isn’t spring-like enough to move from Homer Community Recreation’s indoor soccer program to an outdoor setting. Unless you’re one of the handful of Homer hockey players intent on developing what they’ve learned about the sport at home.
That’s exactly what Maggie Koplin and Samantha Draves, students at Homer High School, and Oliver Beck, Simon Dye and Charlie Rohr, Homer Middle School students, are doing.
Koplin, a high school senior who has been playing soccer since she was 6, spent Jan. 17-Jan. 20 at the Portland College Showcase in Portland, Ore., playing on the Alaska Development Program’s U18 (under age 18) girls team. It was while playing last summer for Riptide, a Central Peninsula Club Soccer team that Koplin learned about the Alaska Development Program and decided to try out. The tryouts were held in Kenai. Each of the two-day sessions lasted about an hour and a half.
Having made the team, Koplin attended two previous showcase tournaments, both in San Diego, Calif., and played as a guest player on other teams. She is currently the only Homer girl on the Alaska Development Program U18 team.
“This program has increased her exposure as a soccer athlete to coaches of colleges she is interested in attending, as well as meeting other girls who love soccer as much as she does,” said her mother, Cindy Koplin. “It has been a lot of fun for her. And her soccer skills grow with every experience she has had since being involved with Riptide and with ADP.”
Koplin hopes to continue playing soccer after she graduates from high school in May. Thanks to participating in the Alaska Development Program, she already has had a few calls from interested college coaches.
“It’s opened my eyes to everything,” she said of the program and her interest in soccer. “I would not know what to do if it weren’t for the people I’ve met and the things I’ve done over the last year. I wish I’d known about all this earlier.”
In past years, Alaska Youth Soccer focused on one developmental structure through the Olympic Development Program and Pre-Olympic Development Program. Broadening its focus through the Alaska Development Program is a way to better meet the needs of individual players.
Draves, a high school sophomore, Beck, Dye and Rohr are involved in Alaska Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program and spent Jan. 9-12 at a tournament in Phoenix, Ariz., playing against other ODP teams from around the country. As with Koplin, entrance into the program was through tryouts.
“It’s kind of harder on us (in Alaska) than other states because everyone there is closer together,” said Draves, referring to the distances separating Alaska’s soccer-playing communities. “There’s some of us that don’t even know each other.”
For Oliver Beck, the Phoenix event was “an opportunity to play some other state teams and get some excellent coaching,” said his mom, Jane Beck.
In a game against a Montana team, Oliver got an assist and was nominated one of the best three players in that game by the opposing coach.
The Alaska boys “held their own really well considering they don’t have the opportunity, at least in Homer, to play year-round and they were playing teams that have pools of a lot more kids to pull form and facilities to play year-round,” said Jane Beck.
Mike Dye, who traveled with his son Simon to Phoenix, said the development program is a “great way to extend the soccer experience. … First and foremost, they’re trying to build that engagement and passion for the game through that program over the years that these kids play. ”
John Rohr said traveling has been one of the program’s benefits for his son Charlie.
“Anytime you travel, it’s educational,” said Rohr. “And if you have something you’re involved in and interested in, oh my goodness. Whenever we talk about travel, Charlie looks to find if there’s a soccer field where we’re going.”
Ginny Espinshade of Homer is on the Alaska Youth Soccer’s board of directors, a position that provides Homer a link to what’s happening in the sport around the state. The development program offers “quality coaching, exposure to playing on the field when you’re not one of the strongest players, combining with other kids from Alaska, travel, exposure to showcase events and you can be picked to advance from the Alaska team to the regional team. And from the regional team to national. It’s a gateway.”
She is clear to point out the program isn’t just for the “elite player. It’s a way for our committed and strong players to see what they need to work on.”
Kay Jones, executive director for Alaska Youth Soccer, said the organization could open important doors for Alaska’s soccer players, as it did for Kelly Cobb of Chugiak, now a Duke University student and a member of the Women’s World Cup Team.
“Any time we can get our players exposure outside the Alaska arena is good,” said Jones.
The commitment of these five Homer athletes reflects the strength of the Soccer Association of Homer, said its president Lisa Zatz.
“They grew up learning the game and being coached in our little club, so, clearly, it’s a really great starting point if they choose to go on,” said Zatz.
Dye has noticed since playing in Phoenix, his son is more committed to the sport and is playing with the Homer Parks and Recreation soccer program a couple of times a week. Draves also takes advantage of the program and encouraged others to do the same.
“Get out there,” she said. “The Homer Parks and Recreation program is pretty fun. The adults are really good and it’s good experience.”
Espinshade said the local program is a beneficial way to stay in shape in the off-season.
“There are a range of strengths and players. There’s a lot of people in Homer who love soccer and that’s a way they can keep playing and also mentor some of the younger kids,” she said.
Homer Parks and Recreation offers soccer at the Homer High School gym from 6-8 p.m. on Sundays, 8-10 p.m. Wednesdays and on Fridays when no high school event is scheduled in the gym.
“Community rec soccer is one of our most popular and most visited activities in the rec program,” said program director Mike Illg. “We are very fortunate to have access to space at the gym as the largest indoor playing area we have.”
For more about Alaska Youth Soccer and the Alaska Development Program, visit alaskayouthsoccer.org.