Anchorage — Athletes in Alaska don't usually have an easy time arranging face-to-face meetings with college coaches from Outside, but soccer players are getting a unique opportunity to shake hands with them this week.
The first Alaska Airlines Rush College ID Camp started Sunday and concludes Wednesday at Kincaid Park, where 12 college coaches are training and educating high school boys and girls on the rigors of college soccer and the best methods for finding a suitable college program.
"In Alaska, there's always a couple players who could play at the Division I level, but there are a lot of kids who would be able to find a home playing college soccer at some level and that's good for coaches to get to see," said Kanyon Anderson, the women's coach at Peninsula College, a junior college in Port Angeles, Wash.
There are three Division I coaches at the camp, along with three from Division II, two from Division III, two from NAIA, one from the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges and one from the National Christian College Athletic Association. Alaska Airlines provided travel for the coaches, who are also lending their expertise to a youth camp for athletes 13 and younger this week.
There are 70 girls and 45 boys in the College ID camp, which costs $250 for four days of instruction, a printed evaluation from coaches at the camp's conclusion, a new soccer ball and a T-shirt.
Anderson, who has visited Alaska before, is always impressed with the players. He finds Alaskan athletes to have strong work ethics and solid team-oriented attitudes.
"Athletically, Alaskans are great," Anderson said. "I think there's a lot of good development in terms of speed and agility stuff, good size, good strength, toughness. The technical skills are just a little bit behind, just a little bit."
The first days of camp were filled with drills to help players improve technical skills. Tuesday, players applied some of the newfound tactics in scrimmages. Many of the players took time to thank coaches personally as they left the field, something Anderson said goes a long way.
"We recruit on talent, we recruit on personality and quality of person, and academics too," Anderson said. "You get to be around a kid for three or four days and you say 'Wow, I like their leadership or this kid's willing to do all the extra things,' and that might be the difference between them and a kid you're considering based simply off of a video."
Like Anderson, other camp coaches have made the trip to Alaska before, when scouting and recruiting was limited primarily to observing the state tournament.
"The last time I came up here was for a week in 2010 and it was just watching games," said Brandon Mitalas, the men's coach at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Wash. "While I got to see them in their natural setting where they are comfortable, I didn't get to see them in my setting. At the camp, we got all these guys under our setting, for our training sessions, that we are designing."
Players from Alaska have taken a liking to Mitalas' program. Last season, there were nine Anchorage players on the Edmonds roster, including South High's Kirby Hutto, who was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011. Anchorage's Austin Porch, Zak Naylor, Travis Merritt, Jake Henke, Luke Richards, Danny Kreilkamp, Regan Marin and Jake Farrell are also on the Edmonds roster.
"I think it's a good option, because the Division I school might not see all these players," Mitalas said. "I think geographically it works for a lot of people in terms of being able to go home and maintain connection with the family and friends."
Catherine Jorgensen will be a junior midfielder with Chugiak next season and is hoping to play Division I women's soccer at the University of Alabama. Meeting with college coaches this week opened her eyes to what will be expected of her on a Division I pitch.
"They do a lot of things a lot more high speed and you can't just go into a season unfit," she said. "There's a lot more effort into it, so it's more of a job than a sport."
Jorgensen, 16, is used to putting in 90 minutes of practice each day after school, but said coaches at camp told her she can expect a much more extensive training schedule in college. If she was unaware of the heavy workload in advance, joining a college team could have been overwhelming, Jorgensen said.
"It would be a lot to have just thrown on you, so being told that really helped," she said. "I'm definitely going to train more, train as an athlete, not just as a soccer player."
Gatorade Alaska girls soccer player of the year
Dimond's Aaliyah Lewis was named the Gatorade Alaska girls soccer player of they year for the second straight season.
Lewis, who will play Division I college soccer at Alabama State next season, helped the Lynx cap an undefeated high school season with a state title last week. In 16 matches, Lewis racked 25 goals and eight assists.
Lewis owns a 3.43 GPA and has volunteered with Special Olympics and win youth soccer programs.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.