Homer’s Austin Shafford battles to control the ball while under pressure from Grace Christian’s Jackson Tanner during a May 24, 2019 game in the Division II state soccer championship tournament at Eagle River High School in Eagle River, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Homer’s Austin Shafford battles to control the ball while under pressure from Grace Christian’s Jackson Tanner during a May 24, 2019 game in the Division II state soccer championship tournament at Eagle River High School in Eagle River, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

The seniors of spring sports: Boys soccer

This is the fourth in a series of stories highlighting the seniors who would have been playing their final sports seasons this spring.

When the Alaska School Activities Association announced on March 23 it was canceling all of the state’s spring sports, it was another line in the defense against the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, but a heavy blow to many high school seniors who will now be deprived of playing their final seasons.

In Homer, that means a handful of softball, soccer, baseball, and track and field athletes are left to reflect on the years they’ve been able to spend on the field thus far. The three seniors of the boys soccer team have felt the loss of their final season acutely.

Austin Shafford, Daniel Reutov and Ethan Pitzman have all been playing the game together for a long time, Shafford said. He’s played soccer since he was about 3-4 years old, and this would have been his fourth year playing on the varsity team.

“It was a really bitter moment,” Shafford said of finding out the spring sports season was canceled. “Soccer is my passion and my favorite sport, and something I always look forward to, especially before summertime comes.”

“It just didn’t really seem real,” Pitzman said.

Shafford said the lost season was especially sad since it would have been his last one, and he and his teammates had high hopes for it. He feels like the players had reached their full potential this year, both as individuals and as a team.

In fact, the team dynamic is what Shafford says he’ll miss most about playing soccer for Homer High.

“On and off the field,” he said. “… In wins and losses.”

Shafford will miss just getting the play the sport with his friends — Pitzman and Reutov are two of his closest, he said.

“I’m going to miss playing competitively, you know?” he said.

Another aspect of soccer Shafford enjoyed was working toward a goal all season. Had this spring season happened, he said that goal was the team being contenders at the state championship. The boys soccer team won the Peninsula Conference championship in 2019 for the first time ever, and placed fourth at the state championship tournament.

Shafford said he and other teammates had been putting in a ton of work during the off season to prepare for this spring. Both he and Pitzman also play hockey, but Shafford said he was still playing soccer at the South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Center several times a week throughout the winter.

Pitzman said the fact that he wouldn’t be playing a final season of soccer didn’t really sink in while he still had hockey on his mind, and while Homer was still in the throes of winter. When the snow melted and he, Shafford and Reutov began kicking the ball around on the turf field for fun, that’s when it hit Pitzman that they’d never do that competitively again, he said.

When it came to putting their love for the sport into words, both took their time searching for the right ones.

“I just love to compete,” Pitzman said.

Soccer is a sport that keeps one in great shape, and Pitzman said he appreciates it for that reason. He learned to love the game by being out on the field with his teammates, he said.

Shafford said he’s not quite sure why he loves soccer. He just knows that while he enjoys hockey, he never feels the same sense of ease when he sets foot on the ice. Hockey makes him anxious and his mind isn’t clear.

“But I have a certain sense of peace and comfort on a soccer field,” Shafford said.

Both athletes praised the efforts of head coach Warren Waldorf who, according to Shafford, is the reason Homer’s boys soccer program has become the best that it’s been.

“Warren is the best coach I’ve had, period, really,” Shafford said, including a shoutout of appreciation for hockey coach Steve Nevak.

Waldorf’s knowledge of the game, or soccer IQ, is extremely high, Shafford said.

“He was just a student of the game,” Pitzman said. “He would always be giving us soccer IQ books to read.”

Waldorf has taught Shafford plenty about soccer, he said, “and especially values that I can take on and off the field.”

In an email, Waldorf forwarded the letter he wrote to his players in March when they found out the season was canceled. In it, he told them how disappointed he was that they would not get to embark on the season together and see what the team could achieve.

“Looking at the roster and after seeing what the hockey team did this year, it began to feel like something special was possible, like that we might be able to play really, really well — fun, attacking oriented, entertaining soccer,” Waldorf wrote.

Waldorf encouraged his players to use this time to their advantage — to set daily routines and to hold and optimistic view of the future.

“I will dearly miss this time we were to have toiled together,” Waldorf said of the three graduating seniors. “I cannot imagine being blessed again during my life with such a solid foundation upon which to build a team. I think the world of each one of them.”

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

Homer’s Ethan Pitzman pushes past Kenai’s Thomas Levy-Canedo for possession of the ball during a game on April 16, 2019 at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Homer’s Ethan Pitzman pushes past Kenai’s Thomas Levy-Canedo for possession of the ball during a game on April 16, 2019 at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

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