After coming up short in its bid to win a state championship last season, the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team is looking to go all the way this year.
The Crimson Bears (9-3-1 overall) open their quest for a state title at 7 p.m. on Thursday night, when they play the Service Cougars at Anchorage's Dimond High School in the final game of the state tournament's first round.
The tournament continues Friday and Saturday, with the majority of the games taking place at Anchorage Football Stadium. The boys semifinals are at noon and 2 p.m. on Friday, with the championship game at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
In Thursday's other first-round games, all at AFS, the Dimond Lynx play the Kenai Kardinals at noon, the defending state champion Colony Knights play the West Anchorage Eagles at 2 p.m. and the East Anchorage Thunderbirds play the Palmer Moose at 4 p.m.
In last year's inaugural state tournament, Juneau reached the championship game but fell short as Colony claimed a 3-2 victory. The Crimson Bears felt they outplayed the Knights for most of the game, but a 15-minute lapse early in the second half proved costly as Colony scored all three of its goals to take the lead.
"We're trying to put that behind us," Juneau junior midfielder Robert Lossett said. "We played well last year, but we're a better team this year."
"It seems like things are all falling together for us," Juneau striker Travis Croteau said. "We definitely have something we want to get back. We know we have to work hard, but we're capable."
The Crimson Bears opened their season with a 1-2-1 record during a road trip to Spokane, Wash. But Juneau played well enough on the trip, despite the losses, to earn Alaska's first ranking in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's Region V poll. Juneau was ranked ninth in the poll, dated April 23 (it hasn't been updated on the NSCAA's Web site), and was the only non-Washington team in the rankings.
"That was a good way to start the season," Lossett said. "It gave us a way to compare ourselves because we usually play the top teams down there, like we played Ferris (the No. 1 team in the NSCAA region rankings)."
Once in Alaska, Juneau outscored its opponents by a 40-5 margin with three of those goals coming in Juneau's only loss to an Alaska team, a 3-2 defeat by East three weeks ago. The Crimson Bears hold a 3-1 record against teams in the state tournament, with the only teams they haven't faced being West, Palmer and Kenai. Juneau blanked Service 1-0, handed Region IV champion Dimond its only loss of the season (4-1) and avenged its state loss against Region III champion Colony (5-1).
"I think we're confident, even though we lost to East," Lossett said. "I think we're the strongest team. All the teams in Anchorage are pretty well matched, so it will be pretty competitive."
Croteau said the loss to East was a good wake-up call for the Crimson Bears, and he also said drawing a tough Service team in the first round will help keep the Juneau players focused through the early part of the tournament.
"It'll be good because we won't get ahead of ourselves," Croteau said. "Our defense is pretty tight, and we want it bad enough we'll put 'em away on offense."
Juneau had the past weekend off, which gave two of its key players a chance to recover from injuries suffered two weekends ago. Leading scorer Justin Dorn has been battling a pulled hamstring and goalkeeper Zuriel 'Zee' Ebron has a bruised shoulder that was originally thought to be a broken clavicle. Both Dorn and Ebron expect to play this weekend.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.