It’s a good thing the Thunder Mountain High School girls soccer team is deep in seniors.
That makes coach John Newell’s job of integrating a handful of freshmen and sophomores onto the team much easier.
“I’ve got some really strong seniors that I’ve been coaching for a long time both in club and in high school and middle school,” Newell said. “Those seniors are really helping out our younger players come together as a team. It’s really good to see them working with our younger players and getting them going rather than just assuming that they don’t have to help out.”
The team will be counting on some of the newcomers to firm up its defense. The team lost two key defenders from last season: senior Elena Bryson and junior Meghan Penrose.
“Last year we had a very strong defensive lineup,” Newell said. “Losing one of our center defenders (Bryson), who went off to college, and then Meghan, who went down to the states, we’re having to cover that center defender position which is tough to do.”
Newell said the goal for this season is just to play as a team. Senior captain Azure Briggs knows wins will be hard to come by against Juneau-Douglas High School. That’s why she too is not consumed with winning at all costs.
“I don’t think we’re too focused on winning, as long we played how we know we could play,” Briggs said.
The Falcons play next Friday evening against West Anchorage. The team plays on the road the next two weeks before returning home for their final four conference games of the season.
The girls dropped two games to JDHS at the end of last month. Sophomore Keana Villanueva and senior Cierra McCain scored in a 5-2 loss the first night. The Falcons were shutout 4-0 the following night.
TMHS feels they will be more competitive with JDHS in their next two matches.
“The majority of the goals were breakaways,” senior Raye Coffee said. “So those can always be prevented if you can work on the right things. … I definitely think it was more of a learning game.”
State tournament history
It’s been four years since the program last played in the state tournament. TMHS lost to South Anchorage in the first round and Lathrop in the consolation round at the 2014 state tournament.
The Falcons finished seventh at the 2013 state tournament, also.
Thunder Mountain High School boys soccer coach Josh Odum came up with a new motto for this season.
“Our goal is full 90, that’s kind of our motto this year,” Odum said.
Technically, high school soccer games are only 80 minutes long, but even that duration will test the depth on the Falcons this year. The team’s numbers this year hover around 25 players.
Fortunately, most of Odum’s players are already in good shape. Many of them joined a voluntary running club or played winter sports.
Keeping up with crosstown rival JDHS is a perennial challenge for the program. The lion’s share of experienced players choose to play downtown rather than at TMHS. But that hasn’t stopped Odum’s current group from developing their own pride.
“Specifically with this year’s team, there’s a strong bond, there’s a deeper camaraderie than what I’ve seen in the past, which is what we’ve been building for,” Odum said. “That will ultimately be our launching point into a more competitive program.”
The TMHS boys play against JDHS in their first two games of the season tonight and Monday. The Falcons then will join the girls team on the road for games against Palmer, Chugiak and Redington during the first week of May.
The Falcons will rematch the Crimson Bears on May 8 and May 16 before jetting away to Ketchikan for their final games of the season May 18-19.
State tournament history
The team has yet to make the state tournament. In order to do that this year, they’ll have to start winning more games against their tough regional challengers: JDHS and Ketchikan. The Falcons have never defeated JDHS in program history.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.