The faces may be the same, but the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer squad is a completely different team than the one that started the season.
After splitting a two-game set in Ketchikan last month to open the season, the surging Crimson Bears rolled over the Kings in a pair of games this weekend at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. Juneau won 6-0 on Friday and 7-0 on Saturday, and in doing so the Crimson Bears clinched a berth in the state tournament held later this week in Wasilla.
"We played really well as a team," said senior Matt Fosket, who scored on a penalty kick in the second half Saturday. "It was a big difference from when we played them the first time to how we played now."
"I've never had a team that has made so much improvement in a season," Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart said. "It's a tribute to these guys (Juneau's seniors) that they made major improvements, and that's hard to do as a senior. ...
"They learned how to play together, and when they did that their game improved."
Saturday was the last home game of the season - and the last home game ever for the seniors - so every Crimson Bear who was able to play got in the game. Lehnhart said he was pleased with the skill and intensity shown up and down the roster.
"It was really good to see so many guys play well," he said. "I thought our second group played brilliantly."
Senior Alex Sadighi kicked off the scoring in the third minute. After freshman Dylan Ashe passed the ball into the center, Sadighi took a shot that Ketchikan goalie Jon Demmert stopped, but could not secure. Sadighi drove the rebound into the net for the goal.
In the 11th minute, sophomore Ian Brinkman launched a free kick that senior Axel Thibodeau, in front of the goal, tapped on into the net. Thibodeau scored again five minutes later from a crowd in front of the goal off a pass from senior Kirk Mearig.
Thibodeau completed a hat trick and closed out the first-half scoring in the 19th minute off a centering pass from Sadighi.
In the second half, Fosket opened the scoring in the 62nd minute - the 22nd minute of the half - with his penalty kick goal. Demmert was called for pulling down Juneau freshman Jamaal Bailey in front of the net, and Fosket hit a low shot to the right corner for the score and a 5-0 Juneau lead.
In the 26th minute, Juneau senior Hiroto Yanagisawa, an exchange student from Japan, took a pass from Stefan Ashe and knocked the ball past Demmert. Three minutes later, Yanagisawa scored again when Juneau junior Alex Newton hit a pass from the right side that Fosket tapped to the center, where Yanagisawa hit a rocket into the goal.
Juneau 6, Ketchikan 0
In the fifth minute, following a Juneau throw-in deep in Kayhi territory, the ball ricocheted among several players from both teams in the center of the field, about 20 yards out from the net. Senior defender Kyle Thibodeau, playing up, connected with the ball in midair and hit the shot into the left corner of the goal to give Juneau a 1-0 lead.
In the 16th minute, Juneau's Lee Sullivan took a short-tap corner kick on the right side, dribbled a bit closer to the goal and passed inside to Sadighi, who knocked it in.
Sadighi scored again just six minutes later. Newton did a good job of working past a Kings defender right near the end line, and had just enough room to move ahead and launch a centering pass to Sadighi, who headed it past Demmert.
Two minutes later, in the 24th minute, the Crimson Bears took a 4-0 lead when senior Kalon Wright took a pass from Kiel Urata and buried a shot from about 30 yards out.
Juneau's second-half scoring got off to a spectacular start in the 43rd minute when Mearig used a somersault throw-in to catapult the ball to Dylan Ashe - about 10 yards out from the front of the goal - who headed it past Demmert.
The last goal of the game came in the 71st minute, when Ashe took the ball up the left side and hit a grounder just to the left of a charging Demmert. The ball crossed the goal, just caught the inside of the right goalpost and bounced in for the score.
Lehnhart said he was impressed with Sadighi's effort; the senior is playing is first year of high school soccer, and has become an important part of the offense and the team. Lehnhart was also pleased with the play of senior back-up goalkeeper Evan Twelker, who took over for starter Colin Conerton in the second half. With a setting sun shining right in his eyes, Twelker fended off several good scoring chances by Kayhi.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.