Skagway soccer rocks for the USA

Goal tender Jayce Ellis looks after the Skagway net. DL

Girls team second at ‘World Cup’ tourney in Yukon

By ROSS ARMSTRONG
In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a quiet revolution going on in the Skagway sports world. Perhaps this summer, during the softball games at the school ballfield, you may have seen hordes of local kids kicking and chasing a ball around and attempting to shoot it into nets at either end of the field, trying hard not to use their hands. Perhaps you might even have recognized the game that they were playing as “Soccer,” (misnamed, it’s true, for the rest of the world has been calling it Football for much longer than we have called another sport by the same name). Perhaps you have seen all these things and followed their play, enjoying the constant, fluid, back-and-forth action, and the joy and effort that these kids put into it, but unless you have been watching these same kids over the past two years, you would never have noticed the degree to which they have developed their skills in so short of a time.
This was not, in all honesty, apparent to their parents either, or their coaches, or even themselves until just this past weekend, for until then they had been confined to practicing with each other and had never even played another team. This was all to change as they headed up to Whitehorse to compete in the annual Mini World Cup on Sept 12-13.
Besides this being its first competition, the team suffered a couple of setbacks before the games even began. Since the Mini World Cup was limited to girls under 14, the Panthers’ star goalkeeper Thomas Etue was out on gender issues and team leader C.C. Hahn suffered from age discrimination as both were relegated to cheering from the sidelines. But this was not to faze the young Lady Panthers as they set out to play their first game on a beautiful Friday night.

Skagway fans Perry Ford, Becky Jensen and Ken Mayo get into the action, despite the miserable weather in Whitehorse. DL

This tournament being a mini “World Cup,” each of the Whitehorse teams took on the name of a country, so it was only natural that the Panthers represented the USA as they took to the field against Sweden. And right from the outset, the girls took control of the game, with Emily Herbig and Paige Hahn relentless on offense, continuously on the attack. But all of their efforts would have been in vain if it were not for the formidable defensive front of goalkeeper Jayce Ellis who, as a last-minute stand in was nearly impenetrable, and defender Nikita Ford who discovered an uncanny ability to remove the ball from any opponent’s feet, regardless of their speed, agility, or size. When the final whistle blew, the US had battled their way to a 2-1 victory. Next up was an even more difficult Brazil, but fresh from their earlier success, the girls breezed to a 3-0 win.
Saturday was not to be so forgiving on the girls, though, as dawn saw snow dusting the higher elevations and a cold, sleety rain pelted the field throughout the day. The weather seemed to put a damper on the team’s enthusiasm as they struggled to a 0-0 draw with Norway, but it was enough to put the USA at the top of its bracket and elevate them to the semifinals, where their first match was to be against a tough Canadian team. Perhaps the cross-border rivalry put some extra fight in the girls, for Amanda Jensen and Kaitlyn Surdyk were tenacious at midfield and Paige and Emily each scored a goal apiece to bookend a pair of phenomenal ones by Jestine Ellis, who found her speed and raced past the defenders, outmaneuvered the keeper and scored twice within five minutes. The girls maintained control for the entire game and with a final score of 4-1, the US were on to the finals.

In action earlier this month in Skagway, Emily Herbig dribbles past Caden Harp and Kaitlyn Surdyk. RW

As team USA had been taking all comers in their bracket, a powerhouse Nigerian team was steamrolling the competition in the other one, making it known that they were the Team To Beat, and it was them that the Skagway girls would be playing in the final. Amidst what was possibly the worst downpour of the day, Emily Herbig scored an early goal, Paige Hahn seemed determined and able to keep the ball in their opponents’ field, and with strong backup work by Brandy Mayo, it looked like the US had Nigeria’s number. But two quick goals like clockwork before the half and another two after it put Nigeria up 4 to 1 as the Skagway team struggled to find their groove. Midway through the second half, Anna Korsmo battled on after a fine save by Nigeria’s keeper and managed to punch through a goal that turned the tides of the girls’ waning confidence. From then on the USA controlled the field and attacked with tenacity, taking a number of excellent shots on goal, but in the end the final whistle came too early and the girls took a 4-2 loss to complete the tourney in second place.
When asked, most Americans would confess to being ignorant of the game of soccer, claiming it boring and uneventful. The overwhelming response on the sidelines, however, was anything but bored, and the cheering from the Skagway side was near deafening. All in all, the girls were most proud of the team effort they displayed, as coach Murat Ozuzun and assistant coach Cindy Gaddis have done an exemplary job in preparing their troops for their first assault on Yukon Soccer. All those in attendance are hyped for next season, and this time the girls know that they can win.