Last year's state runner-up Juneau-Douglas girls' soccer team is back in action and ready to make a run at the 2010 state title.
With only two seniors gone from last year's squad, there is reason for optimism and excitement for the Crimson Bears this season. Though happy with his team's chances, coach Matt Dusenberry said the state tournament, which will be held here in Juneau this year, is a long way from now, so it might be best to curb the enthusiasm for the time being.
"You can have that goal of wanting to do well at state, but there's a lot between now and there. We need to continue to put in the effort at every practice session and push each other to improve," he said. "Whatever happens when we get to state happens, and, hopefully, the work throughout the season will give us the opportunity to have success there."
Juneau-Douglas lost to Service in last year's state title match, and while the loss hurt, Dusenberry said just getting to the final was a big accomplishment.
"Last year's end result was something positive for us in that we ended up getting second place and only lost two seniors," he said. "Some would think we should do well, but it's kind of up to these girls and what they want to do for their season.
"We're certainly a talented bunch this year - only losing two (seniors)," he continued. "We're probably deeper this year."
Dusenberry said the depth this team possesses will be a valuable commodity down the road as it gives the Bears the ability to keep fresh bodies on the field.
"It means that, as far as team play goes, we're going to be putting in players that may have even been starters last year," he said. "We're going to be strong and deep, and it will allow us to go at opponents for the full 80 minutes."
With strong leadership returning to this year's team, Dusenberry knows he can count on several returning lettermen.
"We're looking for Annika (Ord) to have a good season, and I think she's looking to have a good season since she ended up getting hurt during the Anchorage trip last year and wasn't able to participate in what we were able to do at state," he said. "She's been on varsity since she was a freshman, so we're certainly looking to her and looking to have a strong back line with Ashley Soto, who started in the back for us last year.
He also said Ord's skill allows her to help wherever she is needed, but Dusenberry said she will play primarily as an attacking or outside midfielder. He also said they are expecting big things from the play of the forwards up front.
"Sarah Tarver had a breakout season up top as a sophomore last year, so we're looking to her," Dusenberry said. "Mahlet (Tingley) joined us late last year, so she wasn't part of everything, but it's great to have her back for the full season."
With the skill level of this year's squad, Dusenberry said he plans on attacking on offense more this year.
"We're looking to attack more than we have before and maybe get numbers up, but yet still have the appropriate numbers to deal with anything coming back at us," he said. "We'll stay with four back, but if we can get it right, we'll have a little more movement out of our midfield and forward lines.
Kristen Dierick, senior goalkeeper, said the team's goals haven't changed from last year - they are still out to win it all.
"Since it's basically the same team from last year, we're all working toward the same thing," Dierick said. "Hopefully, we've all worked hard and we'll be just as strong."
Soto, another senior, said this team looks to be just as strong - if not stronger - than last year's group.
"We only lost a couple of people, so we're hoping to push harder and hopefully compete for state," she said. "A lot of people have definitely improved and we have great talent this year. It's going to be hard to pick the teams (JV and varsity)."
However the teams pan out, the Crimson Bears are set to avenge their loss to Service in last year's state championship.
And if the Bears have their way, they'll be the ones hoisting the trophy come late May on their home field.