As he sold fund-raising raffle tickets for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team at a local grocery store earlier this week, senior defender Cal Craig put this weekend's series of home games in perspective.
The Juneau boys play their only three home games of the season this weekend, and Craig said the two Ketchikan games will make or break Juneau's year.
"If we don't beat Ketchikan this weekend, it means the rest of our season and the trips north to Anchorage don't mean a thing," Craig said. "We need to win if we're going to go to state."
The Juneau boys play Ketchikan at 6 p.m. tonight and at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, with a non-conference game against Chugiak at 6 p.m. Saturday night. The Juneau girls also play Ketchikan twice this weekend, at 8 p.m. tonight and noon on Saturday, with all five home games at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Juneau and Ketchikan are the only two Southeast schools with soccer programs and between them, one team gets to go to the state tournament May 24-26 in Anchorage. Last year, the Juneau boys swept a pair of games from Ketchikan in Juneau to earn the Southeast berth at state, where the Crimson Bears ended up taking second place.
This season, Ketchikan decided it wanted to make the state qualifying process involve a home-and-home series arrangement. Juneau's varsity was already committed to play four games in Spokane, Wash., when Ketchikan wanted to host the Bears. So Juneau's junior varsity team went to Ketchikan and split two games with Ketchikan's varsity, winning 2-1 on Friday and losing 7-0 on Saturday. Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart said those JV-varsity games are being counted in the four games that decide which team goes to state this year, and he's not happy about it.
"That was against our JVs, and it wasn't my idea to make those games count," Lehnhart said. "It isn't going to happen like that next year, not if I have my way. These games this weekend decide who goes to state, and they're the only games we've talked about in practice. We haven't spent much time at all talking about Chugiak."
Juneau's boys varsity team has been making the Spokane trip for five seasons, Lehnhart said, and it's always been the first week of the season. He said three years ago, Ketchikan wanted Juneau to send a team down to play on the same weekend but he told the school Juneau's varsity was already committed to Spokane. Lehnhart said he's been sending JV team down instead for three years, but this is the first year of the JV-varsity conflict.
Ketchikan coach Wayne Kinunen said he knows this weekend's games will be a lot tougher for the Kings (1-1) since they will be facing Juneau's varsity. The Crimson Bears (1-2-1 varsity) are also primed for Ketchikan because state's on the line.
"My greatest worry this weekend is Ketchikan is always a difficult game for us," Lehnhart said. "They play a real direct, aggressive style. They counter-attack and put pressure on the ball, and if you make a mistake it can be deadly."
Juneau's JV split with Ketchikan the past three years, and Juneau's varsity beat Ketchikan 6-1 and 7-0 last year. Ketchikan is led by Weston Wade, Richard Harney, Jim Auger, Tyler Davis, Mark Anglin, Taylor Jones and Jon Demmert.
Juneau is battling a couple of injuries, including a knee injury that may knock junior multi-position player Zach Essary out for the season.
Chugiak is also battling injuries and coach Ed Blahous said he's lost three of his more experienced players for the season with serious injuries. The Mustangs are 1-3 this season before a game tonight against Bartlett in Anchorage.
In the two girls games, Juneau (5-2 overall) will try to repeat its pair of 7-0 victories over Ketchikan two weekends ago. Last season the Juneau girls beat the first-year Ketchikan team 12-0, 7-0, 4-0 and 6-1. Ann Elliott and Sarah Brandt-Erichsen lead the Kings (0-2) this season.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.