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Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer coach Gary Lehnhart had heard about it, but it wasn't until he found the rankings on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's Web site that he knew it was true.
"This is cool. This is totally cool," Lehnhart said as he called up the Web site on Monday and saw the Crimson Bears (4-2-1 overall) ranked ninth in the Region V (Alaska, California and Washington) rankings for April 23. The ranking is the first ever for an Alaska boys team, Lehnhart said.
Lehnhart said he'd received a call from an NSCAA representative last week telling him that the Juneau boys might be ranked, but he hadn't been able to find the Web site until Monday. The NSCAA rankings are the ones used by USA Today in its weekly high school poll.
"We're having fun with it," Lehnhart said. "In some ways this is a meaningless ranking because there's so little crossover between states. But we're looking at it as a statement about how far our program has come. This would have been unheard of in Alaska five years ago. It's great that a little town like Juneau can get national recognition like this."
Juneau will get to put the ranking to the test this weekend as both the boys and girls teams head north for three games each in Anchorage and Palmer. The Juneau boys will play Bartlett (0-5-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday and East Anchorage (1-5-0) at 5 p.m. on Friday, with both games at the Anchorage Football Stadium. The defending state runner-up Crimson Bear boys complete the road trip with a 10 a.m. game Saturday against the defending state champion Colony Knights at Colony High School.
The Juneau girls (7-2-0) will play the same schools on their trip, with a 5 p.m. game Thursday against Bartlett (0-6-0) and a 3 p.m. game Friday against East Anchorage (3-0-2), both at the AFS field. The Crimson Bear girls conclude their road trip with a 9 a.m. game Saturday against Colony, a team the Juneau girls split two games with earlier this season in Juneau.
Lehnhart said the NSCAA considered ranking Chugiak a few years ago, the year after the Mustangs won the state invitational tournament in 1997. But Chugiak went to Yakima, Wash., and lost to several middle of the pack teams in 1998 and the NSCAA decided the Alaska teams weren't ready to be ranked.
But this year's ranking is based on Juneau's regular trips to Spokane, Wash., where the Crimson Bears went 1-2-1 this spring and 2-1-1 last spring. Juneau scored the first goals in eight games against the region's top-ranked team, Ferris, in a 4-2 loss. Ferris is also ranked fourth in the national poll. Juneau is the only non-Washington team in the regional rankings.
"Our record wasn't as good, but our performance was better," Lehnhart said of the Spokane trip this spring. "Last year when we beat Gonzaga Prep 3-1 we didn't play nearly as well as we did this year when we lost 2-0. You can dominate an opponent in soccer, but still lose because goals are so hard to come by."
Lehnhart also said the Juneau players who compete in the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program helped the ranking from their performances at various camps in the Lower 48. Juneau senior midfielder Justin Dorn is currently the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, while junior midfielder Robert Lossett is considered one of the top-30 players in his age group on the West Coast.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.