The year in Juneau sports

Football controversy, first-place Falcons and a baseball breakthrough

In this Sept. 22 photo, Thunder Mountain’s quarterback Owen Mendoza, left, attempts to fend off Ketchikan’s Stevie Byron at TMHS. TMHS won 28-0. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The year flies by when fervently following local sports. Where did the track and softball seasons go? And cross country and swimming?


Even when school lets out for the summer, the Juneau Empire high school sports beat beats on.

Here are 10 particularly memorable or noteworthy stories from 2017.

Story of the year: Merged football team will get a new name

A short-sighted move to abandon a beloved mascot or brave decision to start a new tradition?

Depending on how you look at it, the Nov. 16 news of the Juneau School District’s plan to come up with a new name for the merged football team was either entirely disturbing or entirely pleasing.

It was a change in course from the school district’s Oct. 19 announcement that — if approved by the state’s high school sports governing body — the Thunder Mountain High School football program would be combined with Juneau-Douglas’ next season.

“The decision has been two years in the making, taking into consideration important issues such as player safety and development, season cost, program debt and repayment progress,” JSD superintendent Mark Miller said at the time.

The TMHS camp was not happy, having just completed two banner seasons in which they were undefeated against JDHS and made the playoffs.

“It’s important to know that identity is what everybody’s made out of,” TMHS junior lineman Alvin Huber said at a Board of Education meeting. “You have your name, and that’s what makes you, you. Thunder Mountain football is currently losing theirs.”

Then came the story of the year, one that irked the JDHS faithful just the same.

State champions: TMHS softball, boys swimming, wrestler Tupou and American Legion Post 25 baseball

The Falcons softball team defeated Juneau-Douglas High School 17-6 in the small schools title game on June 3 in Fairbanks.

It was the second year in a row the Falcons knocked off JDHS in the state championship.

“We used to lose to them all of the time when the TMHS softball program first started so it’s nice to be on top now,” TMHS senior infielder Alondra Echiverri said. “But it is a little hard seeing your friends like that because we know exactly what it’s like.”

Two months later, a second Juneau team won a state championship on a faraway diamond. Juneau Post 25 rode a strong outing by pitcher Finn Collins — who struck out six batters and gave up two hits — to a 3-1 victory over Service Post 28 in the American Legion Alaska State Tournament championship game on July 30 in Anchorage.

It’s Juneau’s first state title at the summer tournament in nearly four decades. Post 25 won back-to-back championships in 1983 and 1984.

Post 25 shortstop Zeb Storie batted just under .500 in the state tournament and was named tournament MVP. He was given the Gold Glove award the year before.

“My goal was just to get Gold Glove again, honestly, but I’ll settle for MVP,” Storie said.

Just over three months later, a handful of kids from Storie’s alma mater also made history in Anchorage.

The TMHS boys swimming team swam blazing times at the state meet to narrowly beat out Dimond for the state championship.

“It was definitely something I knew was going to be tough but I wholeheartedly believed in them the entire way,” 21-year-old TMHS head coach Josiah Loseby said.

Then two weeks ago, Carl Tupou won the 220-pound state wrestling title.

The muscular senior defeated Lathrop High School’s Jason Edwards with a 10-6 decision in the finals to become the Division I champion.

“The season all came together and I couldn’t have been happier with the turnout,” Tupou said.

Most read story: Playing through tragedy

The story Juneau-Douglas High School’s Kasey Watts’ traumatic loss was the most read story of the year. It’s not hard to see why, either — scores of Juneau youth like Watts were shaken by the sudden loss of friend and peer Ryan Mayhew in the fall of 2016.

Heroic performances: Saviers, JDHS boys basketball, TMHS volleyball, JDHS hockey

Three of the four heroic performances chosen by the Empire took place on the JDHS gymnasium floor.

First, there was TMHS’ Chase Saviers’ 40-point outburst against JDHS. Playing against the Crimson Bears for the second time in the season, Saviers scored 19 points in the second quarter alone, when he said he, “just started throwing up some stuff and it was just going in somehow.”

Just days after that game, the JDHS hockey team in Fairbanks nearly pulled off an upset of West Valley in the Mid Alaska Conference championship game.

JDHS head coach Luke Adams said the game was a turning point for the program, now in its 13th season.

“Kids started to believe that they deserved to be there and they could compete with West Valley,” said Adams, whose team has yet to win over the Fairbanks powerhouse.

The JDHS gym was also home the Region V Championship takeover by the No. 3 seed JDHS boys team and TMHS volleyball’s three-set comeback over JDHS. Find links to these stories and all the other mentioned in the article at

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or


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