WASILLA -- Eric Donaldson said he was in the right place at the right time, but not for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team.
Donaldson, who plays for the Dimond Lynx, lined up for a cornerkick in a different spot than normal. That was all he needed to score the game's only goal as the Lynx upset the defending champion and nationally ranked Crimson Bears 1-0 in the state soccer tournament's title game Saturday night at Wasilla High School.
"I'm usually on the near post, but this time I stayed back," said Donaldson, who scored the game-winning goal in the 10th minute of the second half on an assist from Jorge Leon. "It (the goal) was huge. That's kind of the game we play, we get the lead then hunker down and play defense. Last year, after the last game, we weren't very happy and we could still taste it a little bit."
The two teams played each other in last year's championship game, but Juneau won that one 1-0.
"It's hard to explain," said a jubilant Dimond goalkeeper Nik O'Blenness, who suffered a stress fracture in his leg following a collision with Juneau's Robert Lossett during last year's title game. "It just shows you how much this team wanted it."
Juneau won the team sportsmanship award, while the Soldotna Stars won the team academic award with a team GPA of 3.55. Three Crimson Bear seniors made the all-state tournament team -- Lossett at forward, Jon Rue at midfield and Collin Daugherty on defense.
The Crimson Bears controlled the action in the first half, as Juneau (16-2-1 overall) had several chances to score but either hit posts, pulled the shots wide or saw O'Blenness make a diving save. Juneau had more chances in the second half, but after the goal Dimond's defense tightened up and the Lynx were able to preserve the shutout. Juneau's last big chance came with about two minutes left, but O'Blenness stopped a shot by Juneau's Callahan Dillon.
"It was just one of those days," Juneau senior forward Travis Croteau said. "We played hard. He had some good saves, but we just didn't finish."
"This is nothing to be ashamed about," Daugherty said. "We left everything out on the field. We had a bad day, it's just a bummer it was for the championship."
The Crimson Bears had 11 seniors on the roster for the state tournament, so the players were a bit down about the way they ended their careers. But they were happy with the way Juneau's soccer program has developed over the years.
"Me and Z (goalkeeper Zuriel Ebron) have watched this program go from the bottom of the pack when it played Anchorage schools to one of the best in the state," Lossett said. "Hopefully, with the players returning, the program can continue to get better. There's still room for growth."
"These last three years have been a great experience," Daugherty said. "We've come a long way."
Juneau was playing in its third straight state title game, having lost the inaugural championship 3-2 to Colony in a game where the Crimson Bears dominated play for 70 of the game's 80 minutes only to have the Knights score three goals when Juneau let down for 10 minutes. Since then, Juneau earned its first regional ranking and the school's first soccer state championship last year.
The Crimson Bears continued to build on that success this season. Juneau posted a perfect 4-0-0 record on its annual trip to Spokane, Wash., and later hosted the then-nationally ranked Ferris Saxons of Spokane for two games, winning both by shutout in what are believed to be the first high school soccer games in Alaska featuring a team from the Lower 48. The Crimson Bears have been ranked nationally in two polls -- sixth in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll and in the unranked second-25 of the Student Sports Inc. Spring Soccer Fab 50 Rankings -- to become the first team from Alaska to earn spots.
"It's been great," Croteau said of his career. "I have no regrets. I think we understand this. We played as hard as we could and we left everything out there."
"We had our chances, but we didn't put them away," Rue said. "They (the Lynx) played a great game. They were winning a lot more loose balls at the end."
Even though Juneau lost, Lossett said the team was happy to make it back to the championship game. Juneau beat the Service Cougars 2-0 in Friday's semifinal, while Dimond beat the West Anchorage Eagles 2-0 in the other.
"In was a tough day, but we got where we wanted to be," Lossett said.
In Friday's victory over Service, the Crimson Bears had an early goal by Evan Brinkman disallowed because of an offsides call. But Lossett scored on a penalty kick in the game's 25th minute to give Juneau a 1-0 halftime lead. Lee Sullivan added an unassisted goal in the game's 53rd minutes on a ball the Service goalkeeper fumbled into the net.
"This game was hard-fought," Lossett said Friday. "Service is a great team. Z played a great game. He got to balls easily and he stayed strong all game. We held onto zero, and you won't lose many games if you don't allow them to score."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
Team sportsmanship award -- Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears.
Team academic award -- Soldotna Stars, 3.55 team GPA.
Forwards -- Travis Bailey, Dimond; Robert Lossett, Juneau-Douglas; Damon Benedict, West Anchorage; Trent Merritt, Dimond.
Midfielders -- Jon Rue, Juneau-Douglas; Tage Pakebush, West Anchorage; Jason Richards, Service.
Defenders -- Chad Van Dam, Dimond; Colon Ilito, West Anchorage; Maurice Canady, East Anchorage; Ben Meyer, Service; Collin Daugherty, Juneau-Douglas; Jamie Rose, Colony.
Goalkeeper -- Nik O'Blenness, Dimond.