To opponents this season, the Juneau-Douglas High School girls soccer players might seem like masters of disguise.
Players who start the game on defense may jump up to strike on offense. An injured midfielder may be replaced by, well, anyone. You see, interchangability has been a goal for this year's Crimson Bear squad. Just about everyone can play every position, and just about any player can play anywhere.
"We've been working to get everybody to understand how everything works in the team concept," said Colin Barton, who shares coaching duties with Sandi Wagner.
"A lot of the players are utility players (and) are able to move around a lot," Juneau senior Stephanie Orsi said. "We're not going to have to worry" about injuries decimating the ranks at any one position.
The Crimson Bears will put their multiple talents to the test this weekend as they host the Colony Knights for the first two home games of the season at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. Friday's game starts at 6 p.m., while Saturday features an afternoon match that begins at 2:45 p.m. The Juneau JV will scrimmage at 1 p.m. Saturday.
It takes a lot of skill and on-field intelligence to jump positions, and this year's Crimson Bears feature plenty of that. Only five seniors graduated from last year's squad that finished third in the state tournament.
"We have a really strong team coming back, a lot of people who have been in the program for two, three years already," Juneau junior Alida Bus said. "We know what the program is about, what needs to be accomplished, what our goals are."
"We lost a few seniors last year, but we have more than compensated for that because our big group - our juniors - has one more year of experience," Barton said. "And, we have a extremely good group of freshmen in this year. We have never had a freshman group as good as this."
That incoming freshman group includes Gretchen Dierking, Jessy Post and Marita Rodriguez, who each played and scored in last weekend's season-opening 10-0 and 4-0 wins in Ketchikan.
"It's nice to have people who are so good, so young," Orsi said.
"But when we're playing, nobody pays attention to if you're a freshman, a sophomore," senior Olena Lundquist said. "You're part of the team."
With either Erin Cottingham or Amy Henderson minding the goal, the Crimson Bears will use a 4-4-2 setup in games this season.
Senior Liza Slotnick, who made the all-tournament team at last year's state tourney, will head up the four-player defensive line. Seniors Orsi and Chelsea Farrington and junior Mikaela Rodriguez will also be among those seeing playing time in the backfield.
"We've got a lot of experience" on defense, Barton said. "And that's where we really do need the experience."
At midfield, Post and junior Kendri Cesar will see significant action, with Cesar leaning toward defense and Post offering more offensive assistance.
"They complement each other extremely well," Barton said.
Also expected to see time at midfield this season are Lundquist, Bus, Rodriguez, sophomore Monica Daugherty and juniors Nicole Lupro, Laura Flynn and Melissa Goade - though, as with most of Juneau's players - they won't be confined to just one position.
Senior Callan Janowiec will lead Juneau's offensive strikes this season from the forward position. Dierking, sophomore Theresa Badilla and junior Crystal Barr will also be among those in the mix at forward.
This weekend sees the renewal of what has been a great rivalry in recent years. Last season the Crimson Bears beat Colony in a pair of hard-fought 3-2 regular-season decisions in Juneau, then beat the Knights, 2-1, in the third-place game at the state tournament.
Colony lost several key seniors from last year's squad, but among those returning are goalie Julie Coston and strikers Sianna Garrod and Annie Straayer, who combined for three of the five goals the Knights scored on the Crimson Bears last season.
Colony coach Lorie Miner said the early-season games are an important testing ground for the Knights.
"This is a great tool for us, to see what we need to come home and start polishing," she said.
The Crimson Bears also said they are looking forward to the Colony matchup - and not just because they finally get to play a game on turf after coping with the dirt and gravel field in Ketchikan last weekend.
"They're a really nice team, and they put up a good fight," Orsi said of Colony. "You feel good when you beat them, because you know you've worked for it."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.