The Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team got back on track last weekend, winning three games a week after suffering their only loss of the season.
The weekend was capped by a 3-1 victory over the previously undefeated Service Cougars on Saturday in a game between what many soccer fans consider the top two teams in the state.
But last weekend's games mean little compared to this weekend's regular-season ending homestand with the Ketchikan Kings. The defending state champion and nationally ranked Crimson Bears can clinch a return trip to the state tournament by picking up at least a tie in their two games with Ketchikan, and Juneau wants more than a tie. The games take place at 8:15 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, with a special ceremony for seniors after Saturday's game.
"It'll be great for us," Juneau senior flank Travis Croteau said. "We're looking forward to them. They've been getting better."
"It should be fun," Juneau senior midfielder Robert Lossett said. "Ketchikan did well in Anchorage and this will be good for them."
Juneau (13-1-0 overall) beat Ketchikan 9-0 and 3-1 early this season, but that was more than a month ago. Since then Juneau earned its first national ranking while Ketchikan (3-2-1 overall) was idle until taking a four-game road trip to Anchorage and the Mat-Su valleys last weekend. The Kings posted a 3-0-1 record on the road trip, earning what Ketchikan athletic director Ed Willburn believed to be the school's first boys victories over varsity-level teams.
Ketchikan opened its trip with a 1-1 tie on Wednesday against Colony, then beat Palmer 2-1 on Thursday, Bartlett 1-0 on Friday and Wasilla 2-1 on Saturday. Colony and Palmer both earned trips to last year's state tournament, and Colony won the 2000 state title 3-2 over Juneau.
Ketchikan coach Wayne Kinunen could not be reached for comment, but he told the Ketchikan Daily News that he thought his team exceeded its expectations on the road trip.
"We were really pleased with how they did," Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart said. "This is our region, so we're glad to see them have some success."
Ketchikan picked up goals from Claudius Mombrey, Dana Shoup, Miguel Caballero and Weston Wade, with assists by Jay Miller and Taylor Jones over the weekend. But Kinunen said the weekend was made by the performance of Ketchikan's defensive quartet (Josh Schultz, Ben Rosenfeld, Jim Auger and Jones), who kept the pressure off goalkeeper Jon Demmert.
Juneau also played well in its road trip last weekend, beating Wasilla 5-2, Colony 3-0 and then Service 3-1. Juneau is ranked sixth nationally in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll dated April 22 (the most recent release) and is also included in the unranked second-25 part of the Student Sports Inc. Spring Soccer Fab 50 Rankings released on Tuesday.
"It was nice to beat someone who was undefeated," Juneau junior flank Axel Thibodeau said. "It was hard to come back from a loss like that (a 1-0 loss to Chugiak on May 3 where Juneau outshot Chugiak 23-2). Hopefully we can get stuff done this weekend. Ketchikan is improving and I hope we can beat them. We've got to score goals to win."
"We played well last weekend, but we're looking to wrap things up this weekend," Lehnhart said. "All of our games, our last six especially, have been about getting better. For us, we've been getting better. But we still have some things to work on. Soccer turns on such small things and if you let down for a minute you can face a setback."
The two games this weekend will be the last two home games for Juneau's seniors, so the Crimson Bears are hoping for some big crowds. Juneau got defender Collin Daugherty back last weekend from a deep thigh bruise that had sidelined him from five games, but this weekend Juneau senior Jake Haas will be idled by a fractured cheekbone that required surgery on Monday. Haas is hoping to be able to play again at the state tournament May 23-25 at Wasilla and Colony high schools.
"We plan to play them like we did Ferris (of Spokane, Wash.) and Service," Daugherty said. "It doesn't matter who they are, we're playing our own game. We need to do what we do, but we need to take it to the next level."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.