PALMER - The Juneau-Douglas High School girls soccer team won its last two games of the state soccer tournament, but it was a bittersweet ending to the season for the Crimson Bears.
The Crimson Bears claimed fourth place with a 2-0 victory over the Colony Knights early Saturday morning at Colony High School. In Friday's consolation semifinal, Juneau edged the Palmer Moose 2-1 at Wasilla High School. Juneau also won the team sportsmanship award.
As happy as the Crimson Bears were about those two victories, they were left wondering if they could have reached their first championship game since the official state tournament began four years ago (Juneau lost in an overtime shootout in the championship game of the last state invitational in 1999).
Juneau was undefeated and once-tied entering the state tournament, but lost 1-0 to East Anchorage in Thursday's tourney opener on a 45-yard direct free kick. East, which was 4-9-0 entering the tournament, went on to upset West Anchorage 3-2 in an overtime shootout in Friday's semifinal, but the defending state champion Service Cougars beat the T-Birds 6-1 in Saturday's championship game.
"I'm glad we ended with a strong game, but it's a bittersweet ending," Juneau junior defender Laura Flynn said. "It was a tough loss, but we were happy with how we came back, especially once we broke the scoring barrier (against Palmer). We know we can be even better next year."
"I love playing with these guys, we've got great team chemistry," said Juneau senior striker Callan Janowiec, who was named Juneau's player of the game against Colony and made the all-tournament team.
In Saturday's game, Juneau took the lead in the game's fifth minute as Jessy Post, who also made the all-tournament team, scored on a rebound of a shot taken by Olena Lundquist. The shot bounced off Colony goalkeeper Julie Coston, and Post cleaned it up.
"I really don't know what happened," Post said. "It rebounded off someone and came back to me. It was nice to come back and beat them."
The Crimson Bears (14-1-1 overall) added an insurance goal in the 32nd minute as Greta Thibodeau scored on a pass from the right side by Nicole Lupro that went through two defenders. Juneau dominated the first half, outshooting the Knights 8-2.
"We'd had hopes of playing for the championship, but next year, my senior year, we're going to do it," Thibodeau said. "She (Lupro) just gave me a beautiful assist. Colony's our sister team, we love them."
The second half was fairly even, as Juneau sent three shots at Coston (Colony's player of the game) and Juneau goalkeeper Amy Henderson had to make three nice saves to protect her shutout. Henderson's toughest save came on a breakaway by Colony senior Sienna Garrod, who dribbled straight in on Henderson but sent her shot right at the Juneau keeper. Henderson had to make two other tough saves after Garrod's breakaway, but Colony couldn't beat her.
"I was scared, I was wondering where's Liza (Slotnick, Juneau's sweeper on defense)," Henderson said. "But my confidence totally went up. That's what we wanted, to end well - to end on a good note."
This was Juneau's fourth game of the season against Colony and 15th in four years as the teams have developed a friendly rivalry. The Knights (11-4-1) have made an annual early season trip to Juneau for two games the last four years, while Juneau has usually picked up at least one game against Colony on its annual trips to Anchorage and the Mat-Su valleys. The teams have played an extra game against each other in the last three state tournaments.
Juneau had a 3-0-1 record against Colony this year and the Crimson Bears beat the Knights in last year's third-fifth place game. The Crimson Bears were able to get all their seniors into Saturday's game, including three who spent part of the season with the junior varsity team.
"We really like being able to play them, they're fast and they're good and we don't get to see that in every game up here," Colony assistant coach Ed Powell said. "We see each other about three or four times a year. Coaching-wise, they made some good adjustments since the last time we saw them (a 2-2 tie at Colony). The two goals they scored were on tendencies we had and they saw. It hurts tactically, but it's doing more good than harm."
On Friday, the Crimson Bears rebounded from their 1-0 loss to East Anchorage on Thursday - Juneau's only loss of the season - by beating the Palmer Moose.
"We got it, but I thought we played better yesterday," said Post, who was named Juneau's player of the game.
"We couldn't lose," Lupro said. "We didn't want to end like that."
The Crimson Bears opened the scoring in the 37th minute as Lupro scored on an assist from Janowiec.
"It was the best assist," Janowiec said.
But Palmer tied the game just a few seconds before halftime - in stoppage time - as Felicia Sandvik on an assist from Alicia Berberich. Sandvik was Palmer's player of the game.
Juneau scored the game-winner in the 17th minute of the second half as Thibodeau scored an unassisted goal.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.