Juneau Comes oh so close to state title

Posted: Sunday, May 28, 2000

But for a few brief moments to open the second half, the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team would be bringing home the first official state title awarded in the sport for Alaska.

Instead, it's the Colony Knights who get to take home the state championship.

The Knights were able to score three goals in the first eight minutes of the second half as they claimed a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Crimson Bears Saturday afternoon at Soldotna's Skyview High School. Take away those brief moments, and Juneau wins the title instead of taking home the second-place trophy. Juneau also won the team academic award with a 3.23 GPA.

``It was a tale of two halves,'' Juneau boys coach Gary Lehnhart said. ``We went through a down period after those goals, but in the last 15 minutes we had numerous chances to tie it. We dominated the first half. We played very, very well. And even though we lost, we didn't play badly.''

In Saturday's other games, Dimond claimed a 2-1 double-overtime shootout victory over Chugiak in the third-fifth place game and Service knocked off East Anchorage 2-1 in the fourth-sixth place game.

In the title game, Juneau took a 2-0 halftime lead as Aaron Ver scored on an assist from John Rue in the game's 17th minute, then Caleb Froehlich scored in the 33rd minute on an assist from Robert Lossett.

But Colony struck before the second half was a minute old, as Gabe Edwards followed up a free kick and scored on the rebound. Two minutes later, Nathan Chud broke down the left flank to tie the score, and five minutes after that Sean McDowell had a similar breakaway down the left side to give Colony the lead.

``Colony is a good team and it converted its chances,'' Lehnhart said.

``It was amazing,'' said senior Jer Gleason, who joined juniors Lossett and Justin Dorn as the three Juneau players to make the all-tournament team. ``They were at another level for awhile. Most teams would be shocked by an outburst like that, but we came back. We still pushed at the end. That's the big thing about our team, we continue to rise above adversity.''

The Crimson Bears for years were seen as the outsiders of Alaska high school soccer, as they were the only team outside of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. But Juneau's continued presence and the addition of new teams in Ketchikan and the Kenai Peninsula forced the Alaska School Activities Association to create a state tournament this year. Juneau senior Rory Fletcher received special recognition for his efforts after he lobbied for the creation of a state tourney as part of his senior project for the Phoenix Program.

``I'm incredibly happy for everybody,'' said Juneau captain Troy Choquette, who was honored with Fletcher for their sportsmanship. ``Everybody worked hard to get where we are, and we definitely earned some respect. The Dimond coach (David Gonzalez) said `No offense to Juneau, but people saw the state's two best teams here,' after Colony beat Dimond in the semifinals. That pissed us off. I think we showed we can definitely play with anyone in the state.''

Colony beat Dimond 2-1 in a double-overtime shootout in Friday's semifinals, while Juneau advanced to the title game with a 3-1 victory over Chugiak. In Friday's consolation games, Service scored twice in the first overtime period for a 5-3 victory over Palmer and East Anchorage eliminated Kenai 3-1.

Chugiak took a 1-0 lead as Nate Stogsdill scored midway through the first half, but Lossett tied the score with an assist from Dorn late in the period to make it 1-1 at the break. Rue scored on an assist from Ver 11 minutes into the second half to give Juneau the lead, then Dorn added an unassisted insurance score for his 27th goal of the season.

Juneau's victory over Chugiak was a highlight of the tournament for Lehnhart, since he considers the Mustangs and coach Ed Blahous to be the top program in the state. But the victory was costly, as Choquette, who was battling through a knee injury, sprained his ankle midway through the first half and didn't play the rest of the tournament. Kyle Smith stepped into Choquette's spot on defense and played well the rest of the tournament, but Lehnhart said Choquette's senior leadership might have prevented Colony's second-half outburst.

``It was hard to do,'' Choquette said about watching the championship game from the sidelines. ``But we have a deep bench and everybody did well.''

``I think every player on the team put his heart and soul into this season,'' Gleason said. ``The players were on their feet cheering for their teammates the whole season. Even if they knew they weren't going to get a lot of playing time, they still made contributions. I wouldn't rather play with any other guys. These guys are like my second family.''

Juneau had 14 seniors on its 21-player roster this year, but many of the key starters were underclassmen. Lehnhart and his players think next year's team could be even better with the promotion of a junior varsity team that only suffered one loss and one tie this season, both to Ketchikan's varsity.

``We have set ourselves up well for years to come,'' Lehnhart said. ``The program has been building, and this group of players has taken it to another level.''

``I think it definitely should be as good, if not a better team next year,'' Choquette said. ``There's a lot of talent coming up. This year was a break-through year for us. It was a lot of fun.''

The Crimson Bears should be arriving back in Juneau on Sunday evening's flight that arrives at 9:30 p.m.

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