Justin Dorn remembered attending a Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer game when he was about 7 or 8 years old.
As he watched the game with his father, Dorn said his father leaned over and made a prediction for the future.
"I remember watching the team play when I was younger and my dad said I could play with these guys when I got older," Dorn said on Friday. "He said I could even be better than they were."
It's a decade later and Dorn is not only the best player for the Crimson Bears, but earlier this week the Juneau senior was honored as the state's high school boys soccer player of the year. Dorn and East Anchorage High School's Kelly Ridge, the girls player of the year, will both be eligible to compete for the national player of the year award.
The two Alaskans were nominated by the state's high school coaches association, with the final honors being made by a panel of judges selected by Gatorade sports beverage and Scholastic Coach & Athletic Director magazine. The award not only honors the athletic ability of the two players, but it also honors their academic and team leadership abilities.
Dorn, who has a 3.7 GPA and has qualified for the state debate tournament, plans to sign an NCAA Letter of Intent later this month to play soccer for Gonzaga University. Dorn said he hopes to study physical therapy or sports medicine at college, then seeing if he has an opportunity to play professional soccer when he graduates. In the meantime, his goal is to help Gonzaga qualify for the NCAA tournament next fall.
"That would be the greatest opportunity, to play for a national championship," Dorn said. "That's what you dream of as a kid."
Juneau boys soccer coach Gary Lehnhart said Dorn is the first player of the year - boys or girls - to come from Juneau-Douglas High School. Both Dorn and Lehnhart said the award shows how far Juneau's soccer program has come in recent years.
As a junior last year, Dorn set what Lehnhart believes to be a state record in scoring 28 goals and adding six assists in just 17 games. Dorn only had one assist (no goals) as a freshman defender, and he scored just twice as a sophomore forward.
"This award talks about soccer in Juneau in general, we're so much better now," Dorn said. "The level of play is just crazy from my freshman year to this year, we've improved so much. We're doing stuff now because we've been together so long that we didn't even know back then, like advanced passing. This is definitely a team award. It wasn't just me running around scoring goals by myself."
When he was watching that game a decade ago, Dorn was watching a soccer program in its infancy. The high school team was only a couple of years old, and there wasn't much of a club program to feed skilled players onto the high school team.
Lehnhart took over the Crimson Bears 10 years ago, and last spring Juneau lost 3-2 to Colony in Alaska's first official state championship game. Juneau led that game 2-0 at halftime, but Colony scored three goals to open the second half and it took awhile for the Crimson Bears to recover. Lehnhart said he considers that second half to be the worst half of soccer Juneau played last year, but he also thinks it was the greatest game of the season for Dorn, who had a sure goal that would have tied the game with three minutes left deflect off a defender.
"We gave up three goals early in the second half and we were mentally down as a team," Lehnhart said. "There are no timeouts in soccer, and there wasn't much we could do to get back into the game. But Justin picked up the team and carried it on his back until we could make a game of it again."
Dorn said when he was a freshman and sophomore, Juneau's offense struggled scoring goals and that magnified every defensive mistake. But last year, the Crimson Bears developed a scoring attack and that meant "we could finally win games with our offense," Dorn said. Dorn scored 28 of Juneau's 59 goals last season, and his jersey was credited with a 29th. In one game against Ketchikan, Juneau was leading by a large margin and Dorn went to the sidelines. The Crimson Bears were short on jerseys, so Dorn passed his over to teammate Jeff Fanning, who promptly went out and scored a goal.
"Reporters have said that his ability has rubbed onto a lucky' No. 9 jersey to the point where when other players wear his number, they too are given the ability to score goals," said Fanning, a defender this year. "Justin has been given a gift. He can have a future in soccer and I'm sure his gift will take him far."
"Justin is a really hard worker," Juneau wing Cal Craig said. "He has tons of talent, but his effort really sets him apart from the rest. I have played with Justin since I was 6 and I have seen him get better and better. Especially the last couple of years, when he has become almost unstoppable."
Lehnhart said one of Dorn's legacies at Juneau will be helping become a role model for younger players. He said his early players didn't have many local heroes as the program was developing, but now the younger players have not only Dorn, but several top players like current players Robert Lossett and Luke Knowles and recent graduates Clint Sullivan, Jer Gleason, Troy Choquette, Christian Kolden, who have all played college soccer for smaller schools. Another former Juneau player, Michael Janes, was a walk-on soccer player at Gonzaga for four years but could never crack the varsity team.
Dorn still has to play his senior season, which starts in April, but Lehnhart said Dorn doesn't have to match his scoring record to have a successful year.
"That's a record that's going to stand for awhile," Lehnhart said. "I remember a coach from Palmer talking about one of his kids, who'd scored 19 goals that season and that was the most anyone could remember back then. Goals are scarce in soccer, and it's unheard of to average nearly 1 1/2 goals a game. Even averaging one goal a game is a dynamite season."
"It's all about team sports," Dorn said. "If I have to go and score zero goals, but we win the state title, I'd consider that a successful year."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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