Somehow the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team weathered the graduation of Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year and captain Jackson Lehnhart, speedy midfielder captain Stuart Thurston and aggressive defender Mark Heifetz to field an even more athletic team in 2014.
“We are definitely deeper,” Juneau-Douglas coach Gary Lehnhart said. “From an offensive standpoint we will have a hard time replacing Jackson and Stuart. Stuart was the heart and soul of our team in terms of just the effort he gave at both ends of the field. We miss him and we talked about that. We knew we would miss the scoring of Jackson because you don’t get players like that very often, but I don’t think people realized the standard Stuart set. It is that heart and not going to get beat mindset.”
The Crimson Bears won the Region V title again last season and made their 14th straight trip to the state championships in Anchorage. The Crimson Bears won state titles in 2001, ‘03, ‘08, ‘10 and ‘11.
Returning starters for the 2014 season include senior wing Nick Stewart (the No. 2 scorer last season), classmates Ethan Seid (defender) and Justin Bellagh, who was injured a bit last year but is an explosive midfielder who can score or possess the ball. Junior Ben Scudder returns for defense along with classmate Ryan Hoover on the wing and sophomore goalie Hunter Pegues.
“Hopefully the experience they got last season will pay off for us this year,” Lehnhart said.
Senior Elias Romanoff is starting this season, and classmate Barclay Weyhrauch is getting his opportunity this season along with Franky Gonzales.
“The fun thing about coaching is you get to watch these kids, not just for the four years they are in the program, but even as younger kids,” Lehnhart said. “Romanoff is one of those kids, he is one who has really matured as a player. It makes you happy, after they have sat on the bench and watch the play, to get meaningful minutes.”
Sophomore Oswaldo Magallanes is also making an early impact.
“If you think about our team, we are returning a lot of guys who got a lot of minutes,” Lehnhart said. “So they should be experienced.”
The Crimson Bears also have an impact newcomer: freshman Ben Undurraga, who has started the first games of the season.
Undurraga will be in the spotlight all season — it’s rare that a freshman starts on the JDHS soccer team.
“He is a really nice young player,” Lehnhart said. “He played a lot of minutes for us and he held up. I made a decision a long time ago to try and remain as much a senior-friendly program as I could. There is definitely a debate between when you should elevate a player and when you shouldn’t. We are still a varsity sport, we are still trying to win games, and it is competitive. Essentially the best player plays, assuming they are eligible, their attitude is positive and they are following the rules. We are not a professional team. If we were, it would make sense to elevate the younger players, not necessarily if they were the best, but if they were close or equal. I just don’t see it that way. The only time I will take a freshman and put him in the lineup is if they are superior. It is not an easy thing to do. I will go to our seniors and talk to them. We are a high school team, and a lot depends on if a kid can handle it socially as well. One of the worst things you can do is take a kid out of his grade level socially and put him with kids three or four years older. It is not healthy. I am pretty careful, and in this case Ben can do it. He is humble and he has stayed with his peers. Universally, through his play, he deserves it.”
Notable starting freshmen include Justin Dorn in 1999 and Robert Lossett in 2000. Freshman Dylan Ashe scored the game-winning goal in the 2003 state championship game but was not called up to varsity until halfway through the season. Freshman Collin Flynn started half the games in 2005, and Jackson Lehnhart started some of his freshman games on the 2010 varsity.
Last season, Hunter Pegues started in goal for the Crimson Bears as a freshman and had to face a tough Colony team in the state tournament’s opening game, a 2-1 overtime loss for the Crimson Bears.
JDHS’ two top offensive threats, Lehnhart and Stewart, both had point-blank shots to win the game before overtime but they shot wide and the Knights’ goal came on a battered and rebounded ball in the box.
“It was really not Hunter’s fault,” coach Lehnhart said. “It was one of those shots that somebody, a great goalie, would have had to make a great or incredible save. We blew that game in regulation. We had our two best scoring guys with the ball, point-blank, with 10 minutes to go, and they both missed.”
Pegues went on to defend the Crimson Bears in their next two games, a 4-1 win over North Pole and a 5-1 fourth-place decision over Wasilla.
“Hunter is much more confident now with balls in the air,” Lehnhart said. “At this level, that is pretty important. As play gets more advanced, the balls are in the air more. He does need to be more vocal, and he is starting to do that, because the goalie runs the defense.”
After opening their season with a sweep at Sitka, the Crimson Bears played in an annual road swing of matches in Washington state. JDHS fell to Spokane’s Ferris High School 2-1, tied Spokane’s Mead 3-3 and beat Seattle’s Cleveland 3-0.
Pegues played the best game of his young career against Ferris on Friday. The Saxons were in Washington’s large-school state semifinals last season.
“They are even better this year,” Lehnhart said. “We played brilliantly. They had the run of play but we were able to hold them up and counter effectively.”
The Crimson Bears had periods of play where they strung four or five passes together.
Senior Nick Stewart found the net in front of Whitworth College scouts who attended the game to watch him play.
The goal came in the 27th minute as Weyhrauch won a ball with a hard tackle and passed ball to Stewart who beat a defender and slotted the shot past the keeper.
JDHS stayed in the lead through another 27 minutes in the second half, but Ferris controlled the action.
“We weren’t countering as much,” Lehnhart said. “They came out aggressive and we were just trying to hold up.”
While Pegues commanded the box and all the balls in the air, center back Ben Scudder and middle back Oswaldo Magallanes ran the defensive pitch, tying up Gonzaga University recruit Connor Ourada, a player who scored three goals against JDHS last season.
Magallanes went down with calf cramps, and JDHS did not adjust.
Ferris got loose on a cross shot on the wings at the 57th minute to tie the score. Five minutes later, JDHS was called for a hand ball in the box, and Ferris scored the penalty kick for the winning goal.
Stewart missed just wide at the end of the game.
“At the end of the game that is the score that was deserved,” Lehnhart said. “If we had somehow come out on the other side of that, it would have been a great result for us. They were clearly the better side. We felt really good about our performance for so early in the season.”
JDHS followed that game with a Saturday morning tie against Mead.
“We were tired and I subbed a lot of players,” Lehnhart said. “Surprisingly, we were up 2-0.”
Stewart beat the keeper at the five-minute mark on a pass through from Magallanes, who scored at the 32-minute mark on an assist from Ryan Hoover.
Lehnhart, worried that his team would be tired, had chosen to play against the wind in the first half and thus would have the breeze in the second 40 minutes.
“If we had it at our backs to end the game we would be in better shape,” Lehnhart said. “The wind switched. It was one of those basic coaching things. My bad. We should have taken the wind when we had it.”
Mead scored three quick goals in the second half: a free kick from 35 yards out after a JDHS handball, a penalty kick from a JDHS handball in the box and a defensive passing mistake that turned the ball over to Ferris for a one-on-one shot.
JDHS responded at the 68th minute mark on an unassisted Elias Romanoff shot from distance to tie the score.
“We didn’t seem to be able to possess the ball for any length of time in these games,” Lehnhart said. “That is something we will have to address as we move forward.”
On Monday the Crimson Bears overpowered Cleveland 3-0.
“We were tired again,” Lehnhart said. “We haven’t found our legs yet and have to condition more. We had a number of chances early but had a hard time clicking. We were having a hard time linking our passes.”
Goals came from Bellagh on a free kick at the 34-minute mark outside the box.
Seven minutes into the second half Ben Scudder won a header off a corner and Magallanes put the ball in. Bellagh the ball to Magallanes 20 minutes later. Magallanes moved the ball across the grain until he found an opening to put in the final 3-0 score.
Players traveling to Washington included seniors Stewart, Bellagh, Seid, Gonzales, Romanoff, Weyhrauch and Dylan Williams; juniors Hoover, Scudder and Maake Manase; and sophomores Pegues, Treyson Ramos, Magallanes, Isaiah Fernandez and Corbin Mitchell and freshman Undurraga.
The JDHS boys soccer roster also includes seniors Zach Easton, Jake Estenson, Stephen Mell, Elden Punongbayan; Juniors Sam Bibb, Oscar Godinez, Antonio Hafferty, Robie Janes, Eduardo Macias, McLeod Morehouse, Logan Moser, Colton Womack; Sophomores Cody Adams, Elias Antaya, Dante Bonaccorso, James Cheng, Isaiah Fernandez, Zach Hebert, Brian Holst, Garrett Mayer, Ryan Moritz, Eddie Munoz, Jonathan Scudder, Taylor Sutak; Freshmen Corey Box, Igor Healy, Nick Heidersdorf, Chris Isaak, Cameron Jardell, Thomas Kappler, David Mell, Sherrod Miller, Cahal Morehouse, JJ Mosher, Salar Peirovi, Kelson Rounds-McPherson, and Michael White.
JDHS dominated a road trip at Sitka, winning on March 28 and March 29 by scores of 8-0 and 8-2.
“The guys that played the least were the starters,” Lehnhart said. “In both games I had them out by 15 minutes and brought them back in the second half for a little bit. I played a lot of people.”
Bellagh and Hoover both scored three goals against the Wolves. Jake Estenson scored his first goal as a senior. Stewart had three assists and sophomore Garrett Mayer scored in both games.
Soccer games this week will include the Thunder Mountain boys playing Eagle River on Friday at 6:15 p.m. at TMHS field, followed by the JDHS girls playing the Eagle River girls at 8 p.m. on TMHS field.
On Saturday at Adair Kennedy Field, the JDHS boys play Eagle River at 10 a.m., the JDHS girls play Eagle River at 4:30 p.m. and the TMHS boys play Eagle River at 6:15 p.m.