The Juneau-Douglas High School girls soccer team had one of its youngest rosters in years last season, when it stayed even with eventual state champion East Anchorage until the final minutes before dropping a 1-0 decision in the state tournament semifinals.
The Crimson Bears open their 2002 season today in Ketchikan and the Juneau players are hoping to build upon last year's success, which saw the team eventually finish fifth at state.
Juneau's roster is still on the young side, with only five seniors and one of the team's largest freshman classes ever. The foundation is being built for a team that could contend for state titles over the next few seasons.
"We're real strong in our junior and sophomore classes," said junior striker Callan Janowiec, who will share team co-captain duties with senior center midfielder Erin Flynn. "We didn't lose many seniors. We're excited to play."
"This is a younger group," said co-coach Colin Barton, who shares head coach duties with Sandi Wagner. "The group of freshmen from last year is now sophomores, so if not this year we've got a couple more years with them. We have 13 freshmen out, and some are good already and some we can develop. It's turning out to be a better freshman group than I thought. They've got the right attitude, they want to get better."
For now, Barton said his forward line will be led by Janowiec (who Barton said has good speed and is very aggressive at striker), senior Krista Heard, sophomore Crystal Barr and sophomore Greta Thibodeau, who missed last year with a broken leg. At flank, which bridges the midfield with the forwards along the wings, Barton said his main players are sophomore Laura Flynn, senior Sarah Croteau and junior Olena Lundquist.
At center midfield, the Crimson Bears are led by senior Erin Flynn (who Barton said may move up to forward because she has the best shot on the team), sophomore Alida Bus and sophomore Kendri Cesar, who won't be eligible for the first few games because she was on a basketball trip. The center defensive backs are junior Liza Slotnick and junior Stephanie Orsi, while the defensive backs on the sides are senior Emily Smith, junior Chelsea Farrington, sophomore Letasha McKoy (who will also miss games because of the basketball trip), sophomore Mikaela Rodriguez and junior Lydia Ver, who is coming of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee last year.
Juneau's most questionable position will probably be goalkeeper, since both underclassman players who saw action last year decided not to return to the team. Right now, senior Courtney Wetzstein is playing goal, but Barton said freshman Erin Cottingham has been impressive in early workouts.
"I'm not taking any freshmen to Ketchikan," Barton said. "But I'm looking at Monica Daugherty, who is a tenacious midfielder, and forward Theresa Badilla, who is very quick. Theresa is very small in stature, but she's fearless and knows what to do with the ball. There are other freshmen who might make it onto the main team."
"I think we work well together," Slotnick said.
"I think we'll be a lot more experienced, definitely," Croteau said. "With only five seniors, the program has a great future."
The Crimson Bears will be busy over the next week, playing six games in eight days including four of their six home games.
Juneau opens its season at 5 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Saturday at Norman Walker Field in Ketchikan (next to Schoenbar Middle School). Then Juneau returns home to host the Colony Knights at 5 p.m. on Monday and 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. The Crimson Bears get one day off, then the Wasilla Warriors are in town for games at 7 p.m. on Thursday and 6:45 p.m. on Friday at Adair-Kennedy.
The Ketchikan games will be key for Juneau, since the Crimson Bears need to win the four-game series with the Kings in order to qualify for Southeast's lone berth at the state tournament. Juneau hosts Ketchikan on May 17-18 for the series conclusion.
Last year Juneau swept all four games from Ketchikan, winning the two in Ketchikan by identical 7-0 scores, then sweeping the two in Juneau 6-0 and 8-0. Ketchikan is coached by Kay Jones, who couldn't be reached this week but said last year her team is several years behind Juneau's in development although the program is getting stronger.
Flynn said there are now a couple of Ketchikan players who have made the Olympic Development Program team in Juneau, including Sarah Brandt-Erichsen. One of Ketchikan's top players last year, Anne Elliott, suffered a knee injury during the Region V basketball playoffs and it's not known if she'll be able to play much this season.
"Ketchikan is getting better and better," Barton said. "Ketchikan's problem is it doesn't have the depth. This trip is going to tell me about who will be our starters and team selection. The kids are well aware of what's at stake."
Colony has been a state contender for several years, and last season it split a two-game series in Juneau. The Knights beat the Crimson Bears 2-1 then lost 5-0 in a game that was closer than the final score. Colony will be led by seniors Kelly Quinn, Shantel Haralson and Stephanie Creighton. But the Knights also have a strong young group of players and only lost two seniors from last year's state tournament roster. Colony finished fourth at state last year and was second the year before that.
Wasilla hasn't been in either of the two official state tournaments, but the Warriors have improved in recent years. Juneau won two of three games against Wasilla in Juneau last season, beating the Warriors 5-0 and 1-0 before losing 3-1 (the Colony and Wasilla games were split-squad games for Juneau since they took place in the same weekend). Wasilla is led by senior striker Christie Hayes, senior defender Amy Jillson and senior forward-midfielder Emilie Ebenal.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.