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Service jets to Pacific Northwest for games, college tours and the MLS

03/31/2017, 8:45pm AKDT
By Van Williams

Boys soccer coach Rufner invited college coaches to watch his team up close and personal. “We have some college-bound players on the team,” he said.

The Service boys soccer team traveled to the Pacific Northwest this weekend for games against Camas and Skyview / Photo credit Craig Cornichuck

Captain Dorian Cornichuck

When The Dome in Anchorage collapsed in January, so did some of the early season enthusiasm of local high school soccer teams that no longer had an indoor facility to practice and play games with snow on the ground.


Service coach Dan Rufner decided a road trip would be the best way to lift his team’s spirits.


He typically takes the Cougars out of Alaska every other year, usually to Seattle, Washington. There were no plans to leave the state this year before The Dome’s roof caved due to heavy snowfall. Then plans changed.


“When The Dome collapsed in January my assistant and I were talking and said it was too bad we weren’t traveling this year,” Rufner told me.


“Then we looked at each other and said, ‘Why not?’


They contacted the Service Booster Club and together helped plan a four-day trip at the end of March to Portland, Oregon. Other than airfare, the booster club provided expenses for housing, travel, meals and a ticket to a MLS game.


“I have a fantastic booster club and we do some fundraising,” Rufner said. “I also have parents to help some players who can’t afford full cost of an airline ticket. It’s pretty awesome, especially because about one-third of these guys don’t play club and never get soccer travel experience.”


By going to Portland, the Cougars get the best of all worlds. They get to visit a different city and go shopping at the Adidas employee store through one of Rufner’s connections. They will attend Sunday’s MLS game between the Portland Timbers and New England Revolution. And they will square off against a pair of teams from Vancouver, Washington, another state that plays spring soccer.


It won’t be all fun and games, though.


Rufner will take his team on tours of Clarke College and Concordia University and he invited several coaches from nearby small colleges to come watch his team in action up close and personal.


“We have some college-bound players on the team,” the longtime coach said.


Service’s strength is with its marvelous midfielders Azzam Azzam, Dorian Cornichuck and Santiago Escobar, who are playmakers with the ball.


Azzam, a senior captain, is a bona fide player-of-the-year candidate and was selected all-league in the Cook Inlet Conference in each of the last two seasons.


He is headed to NCAA D3 Whitworth University next fall.


Azzam is a familiar face whereas Escobar is a new face from Columbia. Together, they give the Cougars an explosive 1-2 offensive punch.


“Azzam and Santi had a great set piece against Colony last week,” Rufner said.


Service is extremely young on the back row, starting two sophomores and two freshmen.


The team’s goalkeeper is Cooper Bailey-Parsons. He’s one of the best catchers in the Cook Inlet Conference and is giving a go in goal.


“Players trained him all year and he is very good,” Rufner said.


Soccer is the universal language at Service, which has one of the most diverse rosters in Alaska.


“This year on my team I have first or second generation from Palestine, Tajikistan, Korea, Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal, Honduras, Mexico, Columbia, Wales, Belgium,” he said.


Rufner said there are tons of perks to having kids from different cultures on the same team because the kids share different backgrounds and learn different things about different parts of the world.


“Another pro is our team potluck dinners are awesome with the variety of food,” he said.


The Anchorage School District has one of the most diverse student bodies in the country and has been recognized nationally.


Service is proud to be part of that tradition, Rufner said, in part because it wasn’t always that way.


“My Service boys team has gone from the wealthy, white school when I started 16 years ago to matching the diversity of Anchorage,” he said. “Other schools have had this for some time – namely Bartlett and East – but over the last few years, Service and West have come to see more of the same diversity that makes Anchorage great.”


Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.

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