The annual trip down south has become a sort of rite of spring for the Juneau-Douglas girls’ soccer team, and this year’s journey to Northern California will once again provide an early season litmus test for the Crimson Bears.
And, once again, it marks the beginning of the season for a group that almost exclusively features upperclassmen, and you can bet those girls remember last season’s third-place finish in the state tournament. The Bears have a long way to go to reach the final game in late May, but today begins the start of what JDHS hopes is a championship run.
Coach Matt Dusenberry said he’s excited to see what his team is made of against the kind of competition the girls will see on this road trip. The Crimson Bears will get off the plane in Sacramento today at 5 p.m., only to turn around and play Vacaville High School at 8 p.m. JDHS will then play Davis High School, one of the top teams in the entire western region, at 4 p.m. on Friday, and will wrap up the trip against Monterey Trail High School at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Dusenberry said even though it’s still early — and the Bears started practicing outside for the first time this week — he likes what he’s seen thus far.
“This is a great group of kids. I think the strength in our program is the girls do a good job of working together in practice sessions,” he said. “So we have lots of kids who waited in the wings last year who will get an opportunity.”
Gone are names like Annika Ord, Kristen Dierick, Elanor Watts and Ashley Soto, and Dusenberry said he and the coaching staff have made some changes this year.
“I’m a firm believer that, if you need to, you look at what you have as far as players go, then make adjustments there. (The strategy will) look similar to last year, but we’ve made some tweaks here and there,” he said. We’ve put players where we think they’ll have success.”
The Bears had few holes in their roster last year, especially with Ord covering midfield. But Dusenberry said this team will take more of a committee approach.
“I don’t think we are looking to replace Annika because we don’t have that same position now,” he said. “We’re asking three players to work together in the middle to kind of interchange a little bit.”
Dierick was fantastic in goal for JDHS last season, and the position of goalkeeper is one of the most important on the pitch. Senior Kelsey Blacks will be the new face minding net for the Crimson Bears, and she said she’s ready to step in.
“I got to work with (Kristen) last year a lot, so I got to see how she did things and kind of looked up to her and the intensity she brought to the game,” she said. “I just plan to mimic that this year.”
As for the rest of the team, Blacks said there’s definitely a feeling of confidence, even after losing last year’s seniors.
“It’s going to be a good year. We have some new, fresh players who are kind of new at soccer,” she said. “They have a lot of good energy, and as far as charisma and everything, this has been great so far.”
Injured senior midfielder May Suson agreed.
“I we’re looking great right now. There’s a lot of freshmen coming in and we lost a lot of seniors,” she said. “So we’re still learning to play with each other and getting used to one another. But I think we’re doing well so far.”
Suson tore her ACL and meniscus during her sophomore year, and suffered a setback several weeks ago by partially re-tearing her meniscus. She will hopefully be back within the next week or so, according to the coaching staff. For now, she’s doing what she can.
“I’m on the sidelines right now with my injury, so I’m cheering for them and warming up the bench right now,” she laughed.
Blacks, who has yet to accompany the team on its annual road trip, said she’s ready to see what’s ahead.
“I don’t really know what to expect. We’re going to play as hard as we can and I guess we usually do pretty well down there,” she said. “But we just need to keep up the intensity and, hopefully, win.”
One of the changes Dusenberry hinted toward was moving All-America senior Sarah Tarver to midfield to utilize her versatility.
“One of (Tarver’s) strengths is she’s good on the ball with great size, so she can create for herself,” he said. “Instead of putting her up top, we might have her more in the middle of the field. That might help us win a few more balls.”
Junior Dorothy Brent, who was lost during the state tournament last season to a sprained posterior cruciate ligament, is back at her right forward position, and classmate Solana Ashe will have her opportunities on the attack, Dusenberry said. Senior Daffodil Alinson will get some run with Tarver in the middle along with senior Sarah Donohoe.
With a possible move to the middle for Tarver, a spot opens up top for others to fill. Dusenberry said one option is Ord’s little sister, Rebekka, who has been playing well during practice, he said. Dusenberry also plans to use Aubrey Briscoe’s powerful right leg in order to generate scoring.
Junior Anna Gregovich, who broke her collarbone during last season’s California trip, is ready to rebound on the back line, with seniors Melissa Skan and Lia Domke, and junior Marlena Sloss filling other spots in the defense and midfield.
“We have a good balance of seniors and juniors, and quite a few have played roles as freshmen and sophomores,” Dusenberry said. “So even the juniors are pretty seasoned.”
But the future remains bright beyond the junior- and senior-laden varsity squad.
“Last year we had no freshmen in the program at all, but we do have one sophomore now,” Dusenberry laughed. “But we do have a freshman group that’s pretty solid. We have freshmen who are quite talented who you may not even see this year.
“You’ll see them in the next few years, for sure.”
With the blend of experience and youth the Crimson Bears possess, expectations are not only high on the new upcoming season, but for years to come.