For the first time in four seasons, the annual postseason wrasslin' match betweeen the Crimson Bears and the South Anchorage Wolverines will take place outside of the State Soccer Championships' title match.
The fourth-seeded Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team (7-2-1 overall, 3-0-1 Southeast Conference) will square off against the fifth-seeeded Wolverines (14-6-1 overall, 10-3-1 Cook Inlet Conference) to open their 2009 Championships at Noon Thursday at the Anchorage Football Stadium.
The Crimson Bears topped South 2-0 for last season's title, after dropping both the 2007 and 2006 championship matches by a goal apiece to their fellow juggernauts.
Both titans of the turf have fallen on rebuilding years this season, but JDHS head coach Gary Lehnhart expects the match to be as tense as always.
"I'm sure the rest of the state had a good chuckle out of (the teams' first-round matchup)," Lehnhart said. "We both kind of started over and there's a lot of different players on the field from a year ago. They still have good players and we still have good players, so I anticipate it still being a highly-contested match."
South took the slim 1-0 win in the teams' only matchup of 2009, and the tale of two halves from that game has come to define the Bears' season for Lehnhart.
"We came out and played our worst half of the season and some great goalkeeping kept us in the game," the coach said. "In the second half, we turned it around and dominated them but couldn't put the ball in the goal. It depends which team shows up for us on Thursday."
The Bears and Wolverines have been a classic example of differing styles over the years. Lehnhart fields a large number of players from his deep bench and attempts to push the tempo, while pressuring teams from the outside. South, on the other hand, is more concerned with controlling each possesion and maintaining a disciplined approach.
"We subbed a fair amount against them before, and we'll try to do that again," Lehnhart said. "We'l try to play at a high rate of speed and see if we can outrun them and out-effort them. I told the kids, in years past we have won the effort battle - even when we've had the better team. If we do that, I think we'll do quite well."
JDHS has drawn a tough spot in the bracket even if they manage to get past their state rivals, as the winner of the match will likely face top-seeded Dimond (15-3-2 overall) who won the CIC's regular-season title with a 12-1-1 record. That game would kick off Friday at 2 p.m.
"I think Dimond's kind of the favored team coming in," Lehnhart said.
The loser of Thursday's JDHS-South game will face the loser between third-seeded West Anchorage and sixth-seeded West Valley. That loser-out game will kick off at 8 a.m. on Friday.
Title expectations might be dimmer for the Bears than in season's past, Lehnhart remains excited to watch how his veteran players respond. Most of those players, such as seniors Kevin Craig and Ben Wyrauch, have "paid their dues", and should make for an exciting tourney run, acording to Lehnhart.