ANCHORAGE -- After suffering a heart-breaking 1-0 loss to the eventual champion East Anchorage Thunderbirds in Friday night's semifinal game of the state soccer tournament at Anchorage Football Stadium, the Juneau-Douglas High School girls soccer team had dreams of closing out the season with its first-ever victory over the Service Cougars in Saturday's third-fifth place game.
For a brief moment it looked like the Crimson Bears might achieve their goal, but Juneau's early lead was shortlived and the Cougars came storming back to claim a 7-1 victory.
East won the championship later Saturday afternoon with a 1-0 victory over the Dimond Lynx, who upset the defending champion Cougars 2-1 in Friday's other semifinal game. Until losing to Dimond, Service had played in the championship game of every other state or state invitational tournament for more than a decade, winning eight titles including the championship in last year's first official state tournament.
Even though their season ended on a down note with the Service game, the Crimson Bears (10-6-1 overall) were happy with how a young team with only five seniors developed over the year. Juneau's state tournament roster included five freshmen, six sophomores and four juniors, with sometimes as many as eight of the 11 players on the field being from the younger two classes.
"We played fine," said Juneau goalkeeper Amanda Krafft, who was the team's only goalkeeper for the tournament and who suffered an injured thumb when the Crimson Bears still led Service 1-0 midway through the first half of Saturday's game. "Next year, we'll go all the way."
Juneau took a 1-0 lead on Service (14-2-0) when freshman Alida Bus took a pass from senior Kristen Bressette in the corner, turned the ball and lifted it over the head of Service goalkeeper Sarah Combs. While it appeared Bus' shot was really a crossing pass intended for sophomore Callan Janowiec in front of the net, Bus said she was aiming for the goal.
"It was a shot. It was meant to go in," Bus said. "That was my first goal all season, so I'm happy. We had a good season and we were singing at the half. It's too bad the game couldn't have stayed closer, but we had a lot of good chemistry on this team."
"It was good. It seemed like we were better this year," Bressette said. "They'll do just fine next year."
Service tied the score in the 12th minute as Erin Gillespie scored on an assist from Lindsey Luckey. Joanna Roth scored an unassisted goal in the 28th minute to give the Cougars the lead, and Gillespie added another goal with three minutes left in the half to give Service a 3-1 lead at the break.
The Cougars scored in the fourth minute of the second half as Marcie Alzheimer scored on an assist from Gillespie. Ten minutes later, Gillespie completed her hat trick. Kate Wuestenfeld scored the final two goals of the game, the first on an assist from Sarah Hall, but was injured on her second goal as she collided with Krafft.
After the championship game, sophomore defender Liza Slotnick was the only Crimson Bear to earn all-state tournament honors.
"I was shocked when they called my name," Slotnick said. "I'm sure we could have stepped up a bit today, but we all played our best."
The Crimson Bears were actually had more offensive chances in Saturday's loss to Service than they did in their 1-0 loss to East on Friday. In that game, the Thunderbirds (9-3-4) kept the ball in Juneau's defensive end for nearly the entire contest, peppering Krafft with shot after shot.
Juneau's defense of Slotnick, Bus, Dani Choquette, Emily Smith, Chelsea Farrington and Letasha Mckoy did what it could to break up East's attack, but the Thunderbirds found enough seams to get clear shots at Krafft.
"We were trying to keep them on the other end," Smith said. "I think we were a little tired from yesterday (a 1-0 victory over Chugiak on Thursday)."
Juneau's only serious offensive threat came in the 16th minute of the second half, when East's Dena Backous wrapped up Juneau's Crystal Barr in the goal box and Juneau was awarded a penalty kick. Erin Flynn took the shot, but East goalkeeper Laura Gardner made a diving save.
"I went and stared at the girl, and I watched her eyes," Gardner said. "I knew she was going left. That was huge."
Even with East's constant pressure, Juneau's defense held until there were two minutes left in the game and Juneau freshman Laura Flynn was called for foul. Kelly Ridge took the resulting direct free kick for East, and she lifted the ball just high enough where all Krafft could do was brush it with the back of her hand as the ball went into the net.
"Our defense was pretty solid," Ridge said. "I was looking to put it in the top corner, and I did it."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.