If there were any doubts after last year, there aren’t anymore. The Juneau-Douglas boys’ soccer team is a machine.
The Crimson Bears held a clean sheet once again and defeated rival South Anchorage 1-0 in the title game of the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska 2011 State Soccer Championships in Anchorage.
They are now the two-time defending state champions and have made it to the final game 10 of the last 12 years.
“Well, it shouldn’t have been 1-0,” JDHS coach Gary Lehnhart quipped, a tongue-in-cheek reference to his team’s season-long tendency of not capitalizing on scoring opportunities. “We left a whole bunch on the doorstep, and South made a big, furious push at us late in the game, as I expected they would.”
Lehnhart said the Wolverines were on the attack in the final moments after the Bears had controlled play for most of the game.
But once again, the Juneau-Dougalas defense showed its colors.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead with just five minutes remaining, South took a shot on goal that keeper Taylor Lehnhart had to save. The senior made a play on a ball behind and above his head, got a hand on it and deflected it off the crossbar, where midfielder Nathan Fosket was waiting to clear it off the line.
“Toward the end of the game things got a little frantic, a little nerve-wracking,” Fosket said. “They hit the crossbar and we cleared it off the line. It got pretty close at the end, but we held strong enough.”
With the way its defense has played all year, oftentimes 1-0 is enough. And, to the surprise of no one, the Bears’ lone goal came from senior forward Max Smith, one of the best offensive players Juneau-Douglas has ever seen.
Lehnhart said Smith collected the ball at the top of the penalty area and ripped a shot from more than 20 yards away. As the ball dipped toward the goal, the South keeper had trouble handling it.
“The ball kind of flipped over him and into the net,” Gary Lehnhart said. “It bounced right in front of him, but as he got his hands on it, it created backspin and the ball just rolled up and into the net.”
And maybe it was appropriate for the Bears to win like this. During a season that saw the JDHS offense struggle at times, it was the team’s defensive effort as a whole that carried the Crimson Bears to their second straight state title.
“The team defense was incredible. It wasn’t just the (back line),” JDHS senior defenseman Peter Jorgensen said. “In the midfield, we were shutting down one of their better players, and Adam Nesheim was totally shutting down their best offensive threat all game.
“Our flanks were working back, and I just think this was perfect team defense.”
Speaking of perfect, Jorgensen said there’s no better way to end one’s career than atop the Alaska soccer world, especially after beating a rival.
“It’s indescribable. I don’t know if there’s a better feeling on Earth,” he said. “It’s just phenomenal to close it all out like this. And with all due respect to (South), I think we deserve this one.”
Senior Ben Tamone said the win was all about the intensity level the Bears showed on the pitch.
“Our defense kept it strong, and we kept the energy up,” he said. “Adam Nesheim did a great job marking South’s star forward, and Peter, as always, kept it strong in the back and kept things from getting out of hand.
“Colin (Zheng) did a great job as well, which is important,” he continued. “Everybody did good work.”
But at the end, it was on Taylor Lehnhart to keep the Bears on top. For coach Gary Lehnhart, it was a prideful moment for his goalkeeper and son.
“Our goalkeeper doesn’t get a whole lot of action all year long, and we kind of wait for a moment like this when the stage is big and he has to make those saves,” Gary Lehnhart said. “He came up really big today.”
Taylor Lehnhart, Smith and Riley Paul were All-Tournament selections for the champs. The Bears had 13 shots on goal to South’s five, and the JDHS escaped with the win.
While last year’s championship team might have been a surprise to some, this year’s group did it with the proverbial bull’s-eye planted on its back. And while Juneau-Douglas will graduate 11 seniors from its varsity this season, that bull’s-eye isn’t going anywhere.
With the way this program operates, they’re used to it by now.