HANCOCK - As with most start-ups, the Hancock girls high school club soccer cooperative had very basic objectives for their inaugural season:
Get the program off the ground. Field enough players each game for a complete team. Schedule a few practices.
With many of the girls on local high school track teams, it hasn't always been easy. But in playing their fifth game Wednesday - a 3-1 victory over the Marquette junior varsity squad - coach Chris Perez thinks they have mostly succeeded.
Katherine Orr, a junior at Calumet, makes a move Wednesday against Marquette for the Hancock high school club soccer team. The club is in its first year of existence. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"We have been able to play, which we are most happy about," Perez said. "Sometimes scheduling practices has been a bit tricky, but the girls have been given a chance to play on a girls-only team now instead of the co-ed rec league, which is really best for their development."
The team, which is comprised of 19 area girls, will be wrapping up its season next Saturday in Marquette by competing in the U.P. Championships.
It has given an opportunity to everyone who played soccer in grade school and wanted a chance to continue with the sport in an organized capacity in high school.
"I have been playing since I was four," Jeffers senior Amy Ruohonen said. "We had a travel team until I was 14-(years-old), but when it dissolved that (stunk). I'm really happy to be playing again."
The challenge moving forward will be in what capacity the team continues to exist.
While it is not especially expensive for an organized sport - Perez estimated the cost was about $150 per player for uniforms, equipment and travel expense - the time commitment split between the MHSAA-sanctioned track season makes it difficult for soccer to be anything more than a part-time sport right now for most girls.
Perez, who coaches soccer at Finlandia, is hoping that by reaching out to younger girls, specifically next year's freshmen, he can build a base of full-time commitments and join Marquette, Kingsford, Ironwood, Iron Mountain and Sault Ste. Marie as U.P. programs with full time programs.
"We want 15 committed, soccer-first, by the start of the season next year so we can have a complete schedule," Perez said. "The track coaches may not like to hear this, but we are looking to eventually have 'soccer first, track second.'"
Both Ruohonen and Houghton junior Natalie Datto both expressed happiness that they could continue to play soccer, but they did admit that committing to both can be a bit of a time crunch.
"It hurts," Ruohonen said. "You can definitely feel it in your legs."
"I come to practice about once every two weeks," Datto added. "The track coaches are pretty good about letting you get work in and then going, but track practice is every day."
Perez remains optimistic that soccer can gain a strong foothold in the Copper Country.
"The goal would be, maybe in a couple of years, to have two teams, one on each side of the bridge," Perez said. "Have a Houghton-Baraga-L'Anse-Chassell team and then a Hancock-Calumet-Lake Linden-Dollar Bay team."
"It was kind of a testing process this year but I think more people will want to play by next year," Ruohonen added.