ANCHORAGE - Springtime in Alaska is hard to predict.
What's the weather like? When will the ice break on the Nenana River? How long before the first king salmon reach the Kenai River?
But if you're talking sports - especially high school soccer - it's a given the Juneau-Douglas boys and girls teams will be in Anchorage for the Alaska School Activities Association state tournament.
"We bank on going to state every year," said Juneau senior Rachel Tarver, who scored a goal in the Crimson Bears' 2-0 first-round win Thursday over Wasilla at breezy Anchorage Football Stadium.
Only Ketchikan and Juneau make up the Southeast Conference. But Juneau outnumbers Ketchikan by several hundred students, thus having a bigger pool of talent to play for the conference's only berth in the state tournament.
In Juneau, coming to Anchorage in late May is tradition. The boys and girls teams have played for a state title every season since ASAA began sanctioning the tournament in 2000.
And when they come here, they often play well. The girls have been in the championship match twice, winning one title. But the boys have had the most success, playing in the title match every season except one, winning two trophies.
On Thursday, the Crimson Bears girls looked for stiffer competition. This season they beat Ketchikan all three matches, outscoring the Kings 27-0 to finish the year 10-5-1.
"Poor Ketchikan," Tarver said, sincerely.
Though Juneau needs only to beat Ketchikan for a trip to the state tournament, Tarver said the team doesn't look at its schedule that way - the Crimson Bears highlight Anchorage teams.
"We think of the Anchorage teams as our fight for state," she said. "We want good seeding going into the tournament, so as a player you treat the Anchorage teams as your bid for state."
But Juneau had trouble with two of the four Anchorage teams it faced this season.
Service shut out the Crimson Bears twice, beating them 2-0 each match, and South blanked them once, winning 1-0 earlier this month.
Juneau takes on Service in tonight's 6 p.m. semifinal, while South and Chugiak meet in the other semifinal at 2 p.m.
Juneau co-coach Colin Barton hopes his team plays a bit better than it did Thursday.
"Service has got a good team - the best I've ever seen in fact," said Barton in his English accent. "But (Juneau) are good lassies as well. You can't ask for a better bunch of kids."
Juneau relies mostly on senior forwards Margaret Sekona and Tarver to work together and make things happen on the pitch. Sekona, a small but quick player, likes to set up plays for the taller Tarver.
Together they helped Juneau bombard Wasilla with six shots on goal in the first six minutes of the match. They created plenty of chances but Wasilla goalkeeper and player of the game Sammy Becker stopped everything.
But the keeper couldn't contain Tarver in the 14th minute. Sekona dribbled to her left toward the goal, drawing Becker away from the net and crossing a pass to Tarver. The University of Arizona-bound Tarver drilled a shot into an empty net for the 1-0 lead.
Luring the keeper away and quickly dishing off to Tarver is a designed play Sekona enjoys running.
"Everything about it works when we work together," Sekona said. "We move as a unit. Our job is to work off each other and with our teammates."
Annika Ord provided the Crimson Bears' second goal in the 34th minute.
Juneau goalkeeper Kayla Walton had an easy day in front of the net, making only a handful of saves. Her first save didn't come until the 30th minute.
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