Juneau-Douglas senior Jackson Lehnhart’s high school soccer career came to a close with 14 minutes remaining in the state tournament consolation championship as he split two Wasilla defenders to score the final goal in the Crimson Bears’ 5-1 win over the Warriors for fourth place at Chugiak High School on Saturday.
While that tally solidified Lehnhart even further into the JDHS record books, the more important hardware came later in the night when they were awarded the team Sportsmanship Trophy and the highest team Grand Point Average (3.50).
“It is a pleasure and an honor to be with this team,” assistant coach Jeremy Gleason said. “I truly belief it is the best in the state, and I am not talking about athletics. We strive not only to win the state championship every year but we strive to win the GPA award and that is something that Gary is always speaking to the kids about. None of us most likely are going to play professional soccer but what we can leave with are the good memories we make and the relationships we have with each other and how we perform in the classroom.”
Sometimes they leave with some athletic trophies as well.
On Saturday, JDHS forwards Lehnhart and junior Nick Stewart were selected to the All-State Tournament team. South defeated Colony 3-0 for the boy’s state title and West tipped Dimond 4-3 in the third/fifth place game. On the girl’s side, Dimond beat Service 3-1 for the championship, Soldotna topped Colony 3-2 in the third/fifth place game, and South beat West Valley 6-1 in the fourth/sixth place game. The TMHS girls had opened tourney play with a 5-0 loss to Service and were eliminated with a 2-0 loss to West Valley.
To top off the weekend for the Crimson Bears, they handled Wasilla with a variety of weapons.
Antonio Hafferty took a run down the right side of the pitch and scored unassisted at the 34-minute mark of the first half for a 1-0 Crimson Bears’ advantage.
Marc Heifetz took a Ben Scudder thrown in 31-minute mark and, amid a throng of five Warriors, put in a chip shot for a 2-0 lead at the break.
Wasilla’s Elijah Crawford scored 10 minutes into the second half to close to 2-1.
Nick Stewart unassisted with 28:14 remaining for a 3-1 advantage.
Lehnhart scored at the 17:53 mark on a rebound put back, with an assist by Justin Bellagh.
Lehnhart ended the night by dribbling past two defenders just 10 yards outside the Wasilla box to score unassisted. The senior was then subbed off the pitch to applause, followed by equal aplomb for classmate Stuart Thurston and Marc Heifetz.
“I think what was key was something that we have had the entire season,” Gleason said. “The contributions from all the players on the bench, not only the starters, it is always a complete team effort. The leadership from all the seniors on the field and on the bench, that also comes into play when we are getting to those points where we are a bit down. It was a complete team effort, from Jackson to Nick to Ben Scudder to Justin Bellagh, they did a fantastic job.”
Gleason described some of the seniors, calling Lehnhart a complete player.
“I have never seen a player that has come through our program that can strike the ball equally as hard with his left and his right like Jackson,” Gleason said. “And in addition create opportunities for others. Stuart Thurston is any coach’s dream. He is a box-to-box player and will give everything he has to his team in order to win and to perform well. I favor out of all the seniors, Marc Heifetz. I think he has come so far over the past year. Last year he was starting for my JV team and this year he is one of the core units in our back line and I can’t say enough about his improvement.”
The names of Carl Uchytil, Leo Steedle, Ben Krall, Kevin Sigler, and Sam Kurland, although not starters necessarily, were mentioned by Gleason as “all having enriched our team every practice and that is really the best thing about what Gary Lehnhart builds in a team, he builds a sense of community. More than sports, more than wins and losses, those are the moments and those are the relationships that you create and you build. Family and community are more important than anything that has to do with the actual wins or losses of the game.”
The day was bitter sweet for Gleason, as it is his last Crimson Bears’ game. He is leaving July 31 to teach seventh grade world geography, tenth grade world history and high school economics at Escuela Bella Vista, a private international American school in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
“I feel privileged to be from a community like Juneau and to have the opportunity to give back to a town that has given me so much,” Gleason said. “I wouldn’t have done anything different. I am extremely sad to be leaving and I wish I could take everyone with me.”
Born and raised in Juneau, Gleason played for the Crimson Bears under Lehnhart. For the past four years Gleason has been committed to the JDHS program as well as the Juneau Soccer Club, where he has worked at the youth development level, which can include, such as last week, the hard-nosed four and five year olds.
“I regret not giving more than 110 percent all four years,” Gleason said of the Crimson Bears. “But I have given these boys as much as I can give this past year, and as much as I have given them, they have given me ten times more.”
When asked if JDHS soccer is an ESPN highlight reel, Gleason laughed, “It is an AMC documentary.”
Explained Gleason, “No matter the score, no matter the minute, whenever a JDHS player steps on to the soccer pitch he feels like he is just as big a part of the Crimson Bears than those in red, black or white on his left and on his right. You can feel that also when they go in the game and when they are playing. All the players on the bench are supporting them as much as they would support Jackson or Stuart and that again speaks to the culture of what Gary strives to build and create in our program and that is why I have felt extremely privileged and honored to have been a part of this program. I have never experienced anything like it in athletics and to be honest I work as hard as I do with the development side of the game because I want to give Gary every reason not to retire. I want him to continue working with these players because he is a teacher, a coach and a mentor and every single player is lucky to have been coached by him.”
As for Gleason, he will try to continue soccer while teaching.
“Maybe I will start up an elementary or middle school program,” Gleason said. “But again, nothing can replace what I had in Juneau.”