Before the 2003 high school soccer season began, Juneau-Douglas girls co-coach Colin Barton thought this year's Crimson Bears might be the best team the school has produced.
Barton said he still thinks it might be true, as the unbeaten, once-tied Crimson Bears head for this weekend's state tournament at Wasilla High School and Colony High School. But there's a question mark.
"I thought this might be the best team we've ever had, but we're untested," Barton said Monday as the Crimson Bears prepared for state. "We haven't really played anybody this year."
The Crimson Bears (12-0-1 overall) open the tournament against 2001 champion East Anchorage (4-9-0) at noon today at Colony High School.
Juneau has been able to garner some national attention, as the Crimson Bears received their first votes in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's Spring Soccer Poll dated April 28 (the most recent available). The Crimson Bears also earned their first regional ranking - fifth in Region VI, the region with Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming. Defending state champion Service (11-0-1) was ranked eighth in the Region VI poll, with no national votes.
But this year, Juneau didn't get to play as many of the Anchorage teams as it has in the past. The Crimson Bears only played one Anchorage team, and that team - Bartlett, which lost 6-1 to Juneau - didn't make state. The state tourney team Juneau is most familiar with is Colony. The Crimson Bears beat the Knights twice in Juneau (3-1 and 4-0) before tying them 2-2 at Colony. Juneau beat Wasilla and Palmer, both by 3-1 scores, in its only other games against state tournament-bound teams this season.
"We had trouble getting games this year, but we can use that to our advantage," senior Callan Janowiec said. "Everybody's scored and we're all playing together. We've got great team chemistry."
"I'd just like the team to go to state thinking that anyone can beat anybody," senior Liza Slotnick said. "We can't take anyone lightly. Everyone has a chance when it's one loss and you're done."
If the Crimson Bears win today against East Anchorage, they will play the West Anchorage-Palmer winner in a 4 p.m. Friday semifinal at Colony. If the Crimson Bears lose, they play the West Anchorage-Palmer loser in a consolation game at noon Friday at Wasilla High School. The championship game is at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Wasilla.
Juneau didn't play East this year, but last year the two teams tied 1-1 during the regular season as the Thunderbirds blocked a late penalty kick. In the state semifinals two years ago, the teams were scoreless heading into the game's final minute when East scored and went on to win the state title the next day.
"I'm feeling great," junior Alida Bus said. "We watched East play Chugiak and I think we can handle them. ... We have a good squad this year."
"I think it will help us a lot (that nobody's seen Juneau)," junior Crystal Barr said. "I think we'll be ready for it."
Last year, Juneau was doing well until its offense sputtered late in the season. The Crimson Bears got it going again in time for the state tournament, but not until Juneau went four games without scoring a goal. This year, Juneau's offense has been a lot more consistent and the Crimson Bears have scored in every game.
"It's kind of an unknown, because the only Anchorage team we played was Bartlett," junior Kendri Cesar said. "We're scoring more and, as a whole, we're working more as a team. We're creating more opportunities."
"I think we've got a good chance," senior Chelsea Farrington said. "We've had trouble starting games, but once we get going, we're going."
The Crimson Bears have an experienced team with a host of juniors and seniors who have been playing varsity-level soccer since they were freshmen. That's made it easy for some of the underclassmen to find their role on the team.
"This is my first year going to state," said sophomore Theresa Badilla, who played a couple of varsity games as a freshman last year. "I think we've been practicing hard. It'll be a little different game on the grass than on the (artificial) turf" at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Injured junior defender Letasha McKoy, who separated her shoulder last week, said Juneau's been "going up by twos." In the first state tournament in 2000, the Crimson Bears tied for seventh place. In 2001, Juneau finished fifth. The Crimson Bears beat Colony for third place last year.
The next step in the progression would be Juneau's first state title.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
GIRLS STATE SOCCER TOURNAMENT BRACKET
The bracket for the girls 2003 Alaska state high school soccer tournament that takes place Today through Sunday at Wasilla High School and Colony High School.
Game 1 - Juneau-Douglas (12-0-1) vs. East Anchorage (4-9-0), noon at Colony.
Game 2 - West Anchorage (8-3-1) vs. Palmer (8-3-1), 2 p.m. at Wasilla.
Game 3 - Colony (10-2-1) vs. Dimond (9-4-0), 4 p.m. at Colony.
Game 4 - Service (11-0-1) vs. Wasilla (6-3-2), 6 p.m. at Wasilla.
Game 5 - Consolation bracket: Juneau-Douglas-East Anchorage loser vs. West Anchorage-Palmer loser, noon at Wasilla, loser eliminated.
Game 6 - Consolation bracket: Colony-Dimond loser vs. Service-Wasilla loser, 2 p.m. at Wasilla, loser eliminated.
Game 7 - Championship semifinal: Juneau-Douglas-East Anchorage winner vs. West Anchorage-Palmer winner, 4 p.m. at Colony.
Game 8 - Championship semifinal: Colony-Dimond winner vs. Service-Wasilla winner, 6 p.m. at Colony.
Game 9 - Fourth-sixth place game: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 9 a.m. at Colony.
Game 10 - Third-fifth place game: Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 11 a.m. at Colony.
Game 11 - Championship game: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 2:15 p.m. at Wasilla.