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Cook Inlet Soccer Club leaves national tourney with two championships

Beth Bragg
The members of Alaska's two national championship soccer teams -- the U-16 boys and the U-17 girls -- are all smiles Sunday after collecting national titles at the U.S. Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup in Greenville, South Carolina. Courtesy U.S. Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup

Playing simultaneously on adjacent fields, a pair of Cook Inlet Soccer Club teams earned national championships Sunday at the U.S. Youth Soccer National President’s Cup in Greenville, South Carolina.

The girls disposed of their opponent quickly enough to collect their awards and then go cheer the boys on to victory in a match that was decided by penalty kicks.

Then they all gathered for a quick photo before the boys dashed off to their awards ceremony.

“It was really cool,” girls coach Tim Valesko said.

The Velocity 97 girls overcame an own-goal by scoring five straight goals in a 5-1 win over GSA Force of Texas in the U-17 girls championship.

The Velocity 98 boys won the penalty-kick round 4-2 to take a 3-2 win over FC Europa Samba of Pennsylvania to claim the U-16 boys championship.

Malia Lyken earned MVP honors and Michelle Cole was named Most Valuable Goalkeeper for the girls, while Talon Stanley was voted MVP and Caleb VanBlankenstein was named Most Valuable Goalkeeper for the boys, who also earned the sportsmanship award.

The national titles were the second and third for Alaska teams at the President’s Cup, joining a Goldstrikers girls team that won a title several years ago, Valesko said.

The President’s Cup is a second-tier national championship, one notch below the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships later this month in Maryland. Second tier or not, the titles are a big deal for Alaska soccer.

 “It just shows that with The Dome and the coaching that the kids (are getting), this is becoming the soccer generation,” he said. “The level’s increased. Being able to train year-round and play-year round in The Dome has definitely helped.”

The Dome, an indoor athletic facility in South Anchorage, kept the Anchorage players in shape during the winter, although its climate-controlled environment didn’t prepare them for the heat in South Carolina.

The girls beat the heat by winning their game in regulation. They got in an early jam by scoring an own-goal, but Kayla Sims scored the equalizer just before halftime.

“I thought it was really big to go into halftime tied,” Valesko said. “We were playing a Texas team and it was starting to get hotter, so it was important to go in tied.”

The goal by Sims came after an Erin Stuart free kick about 30 yards out. It came several minutes after the own-goal, which led to a change in systems, Valesko said.

“We went to a little more attacking system,” he said. “We added a forward, so we got a little bit more aggressive.”

Velocity 97 went up 2-1 on Alexa Starr’s goal early in the second half while still in the same system. Then they went back to their original system, replacing the extra forward with a back, which in turn opened opportunities for Lyken and Haleigh Van Allen, Valesko said.

Lyken fed Kayle Blackmore for a breakaway goal in the 67th minute, and then Lyken scored twice in two minutes to seal the victory. Lyken finished with a tournament-high nine goals in four matches.

Once the girls went up 4-1, Valesko felt comfortable enough to go over to the boys game to see how the other Alaska team was faring.

He found a tense scene — after leading 2-0 at the half on goals from Colby Collins and Graff, Velocity 98 had given up two second-half goals.

The match remained tied after 30 minutes of overtime, so the boys were still playing after the girls had wrapped up their victory and collected their awards.

That gave the girls a chance to watch the boys outscore the Pennsylvanians 4-2 in penalty kicks.

Stanley, Britton Clifford, Brady Graff and Brendan Doyle all netted their shots. Pennsylvania answered after Stanley and Clifford’s goals, but they missed wide right after Graff’s and hit over the net after Doyle’s. "Then the boys rushed the field," Valesko said.