The Juneau-Douglas boys' soccer team is set to welcome the West Valley Wolfpack to Adair-Kennedy Field - the site of this year's state tourney - for its 2010 home opener in what will be a matchup against one of the best teams Fairbanks has to offer.
Two weeks removed from a season-opening trip to Spokane, Wash., that resulted in three wins and one tie, coach Gary Lehnhart said his team is ready for its first home game of the season, especially against competition of this caliber.
"I hear from different people that they're (West Valley) probably the strongest team in the Fairbanks area," he said. "They're always well-coached, they have good athletes and we're excited that they're coming."
With the team's success in Washington, he also said he feels this 2010 Bears edition is going to represent JDHS well not only this weekend, but all season.
"I knew going in that we were a pretty deep, strong bunch. In that sense, I have expectations, but you never know until you see it on the field," Lehnhart said. "It's coming together, and I think I've been surprised by a few things, especially defensively. I think we're stronger defensively than anticipated.
"Phil Murray has really grown into an accomplished player in the back," he continued. "We knew he was good, but he's really taken over the defense."
On the other hand, Lehnhart said the offense hasn't been too shabby, either.
"I'm really enjoying the fact that so many guys are scoring and being part of the offense, and I hope that continues," he said. "This year, we've put a little more emphasis on pressure, but it's a little early to know if our scoring is a direct result of that."
With a strong West Valley team coming to town,Lehnhart said this should be a good litmus test for his team and its championship aspirations.
"That's always our goal. We have to get out of regions first, but, fortunately, we've been in the state tournament a lot of years in a row. I think, with the exception of two years, we've been in the final in the last 10 or 11 years," he said. "So that's our goal, and everybody that comes into this program now has the idea that that's what we're going to shoot for."
With a state title as their main expectation, the Crimson Bears will look to add to their fast start to the season against the Wolfpack tonight at 5 p.m. at Adair-Kennedy Field.
JDHS girls headed for California
After splitting a home series with the West Valley Wolfpack last weekend at Adair-Kennedy Field, the Juneau-Douglas girls' soccer team is on the road in California to test its game outside the state of Alaska.
The Bears (1-1) will be eager to get on the winning side of the scoreboard after a close loss on Saturday afternoon. Coach Matt Dusenberry said the team reviewed Saturday's match and came away with a good feeling of what needs work.
"We actually taped the Saturday game, so yesterday we spent time looking at it," he said. "Rather than me telling them how it went, they looked at it and saw what we need to improve on."
As for the games ahead, the Bears will be facing opponents that are already well into their soccer season.
"We're going into their last home game, so they're doing a senior night. We're getting them toward the end of their regular season before the playoffs," Dusenberry said. "We're just starting out, so it'll be interesting to see how it all turns out."
Dusenberry said the team usually gets a chance to play in either California or Denver, Colo., but were unable to do so last year, and the girls are excited to hit the road.
"For us, California and Colorado are our two closest options because it's so tough to get into Anchorage's (soccer) schedule," he said. "So, to play some competitive games, we have this opportunity."
Considering the Bears will be facing teams that are nearing the end of their respective seasons, Dusenberry said neither he nor the girls will approach the games any differently.
"I think we're just continuing to get better as we go along," he said. "Another way to look at California, those teams are at the end of their season, so they could be dealing with some injuries and maybe tired legs."
As for tired legs, JDHS players may have to deal with some of their own. The team leaves early Thursday morning and is scheduled to land in California at 4:30 p.m., with a game starting at 7 p.m. against San Francisco's University High School.
The Bears will play three games in three days on the road trip. Following the Thursday game, JDHS will face Granite Bay on Friday, and Davis High School on Saturday.
The team will be staying in Vacaville, Calif., a central location to the places they will be playing.
Dusenberry said he does not know much about the teams they will be facing as currently constituted, but the Crimson Bears have had success against these schools during past trips to California.
TMHS girls get first varsity tests
The Thunder Mountain girls' soccer team will face its first big conference test Friday in Ketchikan against the Kings, where the coaches hope the promising young squad will continue its learning experience.
Co-coach Moctar Diouf said both he and co-coach Kris Coffee were happy with their team's performance last week against the JDHS JV team.
"We were pretty impressed with how the girls showed up. We've been working hard on conditioning and basic skills, and the game was very close in the second half," Diouf said. "We're very happy to see that some of the things we're working are already paying off, and they put up a fight.
"The skill level isn't there yet, but the desire to play and the willingness to represent the school is definitely there."
The Falcons are upbeat about the upcoming matchup with the Kings, as Diouf said they do not pose the same problems as Juneau-Douglas.
"Ketchikan is not like Juneau. Given what I've seen in previous years, their program is not strong," he said. "Not to put them down at all, but we will be pretty close to their level. We are expecting the girls to have a good showing there."
Diouf also said the Kings will not be at the level of the Crimson Bears.
"It's not going to be anything like JDHS's varsity because they are not backed by a soccer club," he said. "But their players have played more than our girls who, some of them, have just started playing soccer.
"So, with that, we are hoping the playing field will be somewhat even and we can give our players some confidence."
Diouf said the girls will apply lessons learned from last week's matchup with JDHS's JV squad this week against Ketchikan.
"It was a team effort and everybody put out 100 percent, so teamwork is a big part," he said. "We're also banking on the conditioning we've built up so far. With that, I think we can go a long way in any given game."
During a season that is sure to be full of lessons and learning experiences, the Thunder Mountain girls' soccer team has plenty of work ahead of it. But with the confidence this coaching staff has instilled in their players, the Falcons are improving noticeably every day. And as a new program, there's nowhere to go but up from here.
The first game of the series will be Friday in Ketchikan.