During a season riddled with player injuries, defense remained a constant for the Crimson Bears boys' soccer team.
Anchoring that back line is senior Phil Murray and when you come into his zone for the first time, chances are, you'll think twice about a re-entry.
"If you hit a player hard in the beginning of the game, they won't really want to come back again," Murray said. "It sounds bad, but it works. If you hit someone right off the bat, next time there's a 50-50 ball, they will back off."
Murray, who's every bit of 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, is an intimidating presence on the defensive end, but he understands the team concept. And along with his teammates anchoring the defense, they create a formidable blockade for any opposing offense trying to put the ball in the net.
"I have two really strong players (Chris Hoffman and Peter Jorgensen) on both sides of me that hit just as hard as I do, if not harder," Murray said. "That gives us a ferocity that a lot of back lines don't have."
And the few times the Bears' defense does crack, Murray said the offense doesn't usually have the same success a second time.
"If someone beats me, I always try to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said. "A big thing is watching what players like to do, and another thing is watching the ball instead of the player. They can do a lot with their feet, but if you just watch the ball, it's a good thing."
Murray's knowledge of the sport is something he's gained over the years as he has improved. He said growing up, baseball was his favorite sport until he really began to focus on soccer.
"Soccer was always my second sport until a coach asked me to join the soccer club when I was 11," he said. "I've been playing soccer since I was 5 years old. I've loved it."
At first, Murray would agree with people that say soccer is a boring game to watch. But, for him, the play on the field is why he enjoys the sport so much.
"It's a game that's not super exciting right away, especially in the outdoor game, and a lot of people don't like to watch soccer," he said. "But if you watch a play build up, it's amazing what can happen."
Make no mistake, however, Murray loves the sport. Next year he will be playing for Embry Riddle at the collegiate level, and he is excited to make the transition.
"It's a lot more physical and the speed is more intense, and that's going to be one of the biggest changes going from high school to college," he said. "I'm really excited. It's going to be a great challenge.
If you asked Bears coach Gary Lehnhart what type of player they are getting, he'd tell you Murray is a coach's dream.
"They're getting a tough, hard-nosed player. He does not like to lose and he sets his standards very high," Lehnhart said. "And he always gives 80 minutes of everything he has every time he walks on the field."
Lehnhart has been Murray's coach since his freshman year at JDHS, and he said this year especially the senior center back has made his mark.
"He's been the one constant. Virtually every other starter, with a few exceptions, have been in and out of the lineup," he said. "The one thing we've done all year long is we've defended well, and it's largely been because of what he's brought in the back. As a freshman, he was raw, but he has made himself into one of the top few players in the state."
But before Murray moves to the next soccer stage in life, the current one is already set for a memorable performance. The Bears open against Wasilla on Thursday at 3 p.m. on Adair-Kennedy Field, and if they hope to bring the state title back to Juneau-Douglas, Murray will have to be the defensive anchor he's been all year for just three more games.
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