While the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team has been able to remain unbeaten this season, there has been a constant worry for the Crimson Bears.
The Crimson Bears were creating numerous scoring chances, but they sometimes struggled to score goals. So this past week the Juneau boys soccer team focused its practices on completing the play, putting the ball in the net.
This week's finishing school paid off, as the defending state champion Crimson Bears clinched a return berth to the state tournament on Friday with a 13-0 victory over the Ketchikan Kings. In Saturday's regular-season finale, the Crimson Bears didn't finish as well early in the game, but they closed the season with a 4-2 victory and Juneau's first unbeaten regular season.
In Friday's game, the Crimson Bears (15-0-2 overall, 4-0-0 Region V) only needed about 75 seconds to score their first goal as Dylan Ashe took a diving, airborne shot off a header from Cheyenne Sanchez.
The Kings (1-7-0 overall, 0-4-0 region) played good, solid defensive soccer for the next 10-15 minutes, but then the Crimson Bears got into a groove where their next three shots all found the twine at the back of the goal. After that, the Kings couldn't keep up.
"I think the last game we took 37 shots and only scored two goals," Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart said, referring to the Crimson Bears' 2-0 victory over Bartlett last Saturday in Anchorage. "At halftime I told the guys we'd made seven of our 13 shots. We were sharp."
Nine different players scored goals for Juneau in Friday's game, with Ashe, Jamaal Bailey, Nick Ellenbecker and Nathan Schroeder scoring twice each. Also scoring goals for Juneau were Kabil Seesan, Cameron Mitchell, Cheyenne Sanchez, Levi Wanstall and Eric Gullufsen. Bailey had three assists and Sanchez added two assists, while the trio of Seesan, Carlo Ebron and Mark Rainery had one assist apiece.
"We've been working on finishing, since the last game we had 35 shots and only two goals," said Ellenbecker, who won the team's lunchbox award for coming to work in Friday's game. "If you look at a lot of our goals, they were coming off assists and that means we're not playing selfishly."
"It was great, a great feeling to be able to finish," Bailey said. "We've been practicing on it. We were playing as a team and we were unselfish. It was soccer."
Lehnhart started all his seniors in Saturday's game, including many who normally ride the bench. Ketchikan took a lead in the 11th minute when Beau Poppen scored off an assist from Thanh Nguyen. After not converting several early scoring opportunities, Ashe scored in the 36th minute off an assist by Sanchez to tie the game.
In the second half, with Juneau's normal starters playing, Ashe scored again off an assist from Sanchez to give the Crimson Bears a 2-1 lead in the 46th minute. Seesan scored an unassisted goal in the 57th minute, and the seniors went back in. Connor Pihl scored a goal for Ketchikan with four minutes left in the game, but Mitchell answered with an unassisted goal in the game's last minute.
Several of the Crimson Bears said Ashe's goal at the start of Friday's game might have cracked the Kings' confidence. When the Bears made three straight shots about 10 minutes later, that shattered what was left. Schroeder scored in the 11th minute on an assist from Bailey, then Bailey scored in the 14th minute on a header assisted by Seesan and again in the 16th minute on an unassisted deflection.
"We worked on our shots a lot," Ashe said. "Gary was trying to get us to put them away, and that sets the tone for the whole game. This was a really big game for us, and we put it away."
The Crimson Bears turned over all but a couple of players since winning last year's state championship, so for many of the players winning on Friday clinched their first trip to the state tournament. The state tournament opens on Thursday at Wasilla and Colony high schools.
"We were just focused on the game," said Schroeder, a senior who will make his first trip to state. "We just wanted to play hard in front of the (home) crowd."
After taking a 4-0 lead, Juneau started making regular substitutions to get all of its healthy players into the game. That didn't stop the onslaught.
Ellenbecker scored in the 23rd minute on an assist from Bailey, then assisted on a goal by Seesan two minutes later. Ellenbecker scored his second goal, this time unassisted, in the last minute of the first half as Juneau took a 7-0 lead.
Eleven minutes into the second half, Schroeder scored on an assist from Sanchez, then Ashe scored his second goal two minutes later on an assist from Bailey. Five minutes later Mitchell scored on an assist from Ebron, then Sanchez scored an unassisted goal a minute later. Wanstall scored in the game's 66th minute on an assist from Rainery, and Gullufsen closed out the scoring with an unassisted goal in the 73rd minute.
Matt Walton played the first half in goal and Ed Mertz played the second half to share the shutout, though they were rarely tested. Mertz, a senior, played in goal for most of Saturday's game.
In Friday's junior varsity game, the Juneau boys won 4-1 as Cary Kelley, Gullufsen, Logan Spencer and Brian Crowder scored goals for the Crimson Bears. Beau Dale scored the lone Ketchikan JV goal.
Juneau won Saturday's JV game 10-0 as Andrew Flansaas recorded a hat trick in just 90 seconds and Gullufsen also notched a hat trick. Brian Smith scored twice, while Crowder and Josh Wehnes had one goal each. Eli Wray and Shane Gutneckt shared the shutout.