Baker Blast hits Whatcom County


Each year right around this time, soccer madness ensues in Whatcom County.

In what form is still to be seen, but when 172 soccer teams converge ready to play a three-day long tournament, excitement and feverish competition typically follow.

Such is the standard set for the 23rd annual Dairy Valley Distributors Baker Blast soccer tournament, which begins Friday, June 21, with matches being played at Northwest Soccer Park, Ferndale High School and Pioneer Park. First matches will begin at 2:40 p.m. Friday, and run through Saturday and end at 5 p.m. Sunday.

The tournament is the only of its kind in Whatcom County, hosting both boys and girls ages 10 through 18, with various levels of competition available for the nearly 3,400 athletes.

While some level of chaos is to be expected when dealing with such a volume, the man orchestrating the tournament, Lance Calloway, has 15 years of prior experience to call upon.

"There are a lot of moving parts, but everything is pretty seamless," Calloway said in a phone interview. "What minor issues that come up, they are minor and we have seen them all."

A top-notch group of volunteers and a prepared staff do wonders in curtailing any level of pandemonium, Calloway said, letting the soccer stand on its own.

Fresh faces and young athletes embody this tournament, and while winning is the undertone to any athletic event, it's not the only focus for Sean Connor and his boys U-12 Rangers Gold squad.

Far from it, actually.

"This young of kids, winning really isn't that important," Connor said in a phone interview. "It's really all about the development of players.

"At this age, one of the things that we'll focus on a lot is the technical abilities so that they can dribble, pass, shoot and defend, stuff like that so that they have that foundation to move forward for the future. Those are the building blocks for a really successful team."

Connor inherited a team that, while young, had plenty of experience playing with one another before he arrived. Being the new one, Connor got to see first hand what his team is capable of in its opening tournament of the year when the Rangers collected 18 goals over four games at the Skagit Firecracker soccer tournament. Safe to say, four matches resulted in four convincing wins.

His teams' unique thirst for scoring, though, is enough to make most competition weary of making sloppy mistakes.

"It's funny, everyone gets excited when they score, but you can see everyone's face light up when they score even though it is the fourth or fifth goal they scored in the game," Connor said. "It's just something that never gets old for them."

Entering the tournament with similarly high expectations is the girls U-15 Rangers Gold squad. After winning their bracket last year, a return trip to the championship game would be an ideal start to their summer season, coach Mary Shroeder said in a phone interview, but it's certainly not the domineering theme entering play.

Rather, it's the wide array of teams and competition this tournament offers, teams the Rangers wouldn't normally face.

"We always look forward to this tournament because we get to play teams we don't normally see," Schroeder said. "It's really fun to compete against those girls and see how they run their programs, and how we compare, and what type of formations they run, as well."

Being local doesn't hurt, either.

"I think it is really special for the girls to participate in it year after year and build that history of competing in that same tournament with local talent and local fans here as well," Schroeder said. "They always get really excited before it. ... It is a really great bonding experience."

Like Connor, Shroeder is entering her first year heading this specific team. This tournament, she said, affords her the opportunity to finally see her team live, an opportunity she is beaming with excitement over.

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