Up a goal at halftime Saturday, in a tense, physical game against Chugiak, Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer coach Gary Lehnhart found a way to keep his players inspired - and lighten the mood.
"Gnats," he called his gathered players - short-statured compared to the Mustangs' tall lineup.
The David-vs.-Goliath mentality worked, as the Crimson "Gnats" kept swarming Chugiak the rest of the game to emerge with a 3-1 victory in the inaugural Spring Fever soccer series at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
In Juneau's other weekend games, the Crimson Bears beat Palmer 7-1 on Friday, and won a friendly split-match scrimmage against Palmer and Chugiak 4-1 on Saturday. Chugiak beat Palmer 3-1 on Friday.
Last season, Juneau (5-0-1 overall) was known for the impressive height of its starting defense - all of which graduated. On Saturday against Chugiak, the Crimson Bears thrived on the speed and aggressive play of their front line, including seniors Cameron Mitchell and Nathan Schroeder, junior Nick Ellenbecker and sophomores Dylan Ashe, Jamaal Bailey and Kabil Seesan.
"We lost a lot of height, but we make up for it in our speed, our quickness," Mitchell said. "We outhustle teams."
"Every one of those guys really made Chugiak's backs face somebody, all the time," Lehnhart said of his strikers. "That's hard when you're playing defense, and somebody is on you all the time. You're going to make mistakes."
Juneau scored first by shooting over Chugiak's tall defense in the ninth minute. Mitchell tapped the ball back to Ashe, who launched a shot from about 35 yards out that beat Mustangs goalkeeper Derek Casanovas.
The game settled into a defensive battle, with Chugiak defenders - including Brian Reid, Brian Oliver and Jarod Whitehead - thwarting several Juneau scoring attempts.
The Mustangs tied the game up in the 29th minute when Brent Zahn took a shot that ricocheted off a Juneau defender and past Crimson Bear keeper Matthew Walton.
But just a minute later - right before halftime - Juneau answered when Schroeder took a pass from Ellenbecker and beat Casanovas from about 10 yards out.
"Nathan went from the back line on defense to the front line on offense, and it's 2-1," Lehnhart said.
In the first minute of the second half, Mitchell and Ashe broke away and got tripped up in a collision with Casanovas just outside the penalty box - an example of the aggressive offense cited by Lehnhart. Juneau junior Ian Brinkman scored on the free kick to put the Crimson Bears up 3-1, which would stand the rest of the way.
Ashe won the team's "lunchbox" award - given to the player who came to work - for his play in the game.
Chugiak coach Craig Naylor said Juneau's two goals bookending the half tipped the balance in a close game.
"There were two minutes that killed us - the last minute of the first half and the first minute of the second half," Naylor said. "Other than that, it was a pretty even game."
Juneau won't have much time to rest before heading to Ketchikan for games on Monday and Tuesday. The winner of the season's four-game Juneau-Kayhi series earns the sole Southeast berth at the state tournament.
"All the games up to now have been great, but they don't matter," Lehnhart said. "That's what we need to remember. We need to win both these games."
Ketchikan lost some of last season's standout defenders - Taylor Jones, Josh Schultz and goalie Jon Demmert - to graduation. Senior Ben Rosenfeld is among the leaders of this year's defense, while sophomores Beau Poppen, Connor Pihl and Jared Azure are some of the top players at midfield and forward.
Kayhi had its best-ever turnout this season - about 30 players - and was able to field a JV squad.
The Crimson Bears said they'll be ready to play after their Spring Fever wins.
"This gives us a lot of momentum going into Ketchikan," Mitchell said of the weekend.
Juneau 7, Palmer 1
Jamaal Bailey had a hat trick, and Kiel Urata wowed the crowd with a bicycle-kick goal as the Crimson Bears rolled past the Moose on Friday.
Urata, a senior co-captain, opened the scoring with his highlight goal. In the 12th minute, sophomore Dylan Ashe headed a ball toward the goal, and Urata caught it in mid-air to rocket the shot past Palmer goalkeeper Jake Heun. Urata won the team's "lunchbox" award for his effort.
"You have to celebrate a goal like Kiel's," coach Gary Lehnhart said. "It doesn't happen very often."
"When the ball is in the air, you've just got to go for it," Urata said. "It's just instinctive."
Bailey scored Juneau's next three goals. He scored off a Urata assist in the 14th minute, and in the 31st minute he headed a long pass from Matt Kern over the head of the drawn-out Heun to put the Crimson Bears up 3-0.
Six minutes later, he took a deep pass from senior Patrick Hoke and - from the left endline he took a shot that somehow found the far corner of the net to put Juneau up 4-0 at halftime. The crowd was silent a few seconds before realizing the shot actually went in.
"I didn't expect that to go in," Bailey said. "I just turned around and looked, and saw it in the back of the net. I paused myself."
Sophomore Kabil Seesan opened the second half scoring in the 42nd minute - the second minute of the half - when he and junior Mark Rainery collided with Heun, knocking the ball loose and giving Seesan his shot.
Jeff Shin scored Juneau's sixth goal, and the Crimson Bears' final tally was a deflection called an own-goal. In the 73rd minute, Palmer got on the board when Ben Beetch knocked in a penalty kick.
Juneau 2, Palmer 0 (first half)
Juneau 2, Chugiak 1 (second half)
In a friendly scrimmage to give teams some more game experience, Juneau emerged victorious in a split contest against Palmer and Chugiak on Saturday.
Junior Brian Smith scored in the second minute, and senior Brian Reishus sank a penalty kick in the closing minutes of the first half to put the Crimson Bears up 2-0 on Palmer at the break.
Against Chugiak in the second half, sophomore Kabil Seesan made both of Juneau's goals. Tom Davis scored for the Mustangs.
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.