ANCHORAGE - With the season over and graduation one day away, Juneau-Douglas High School girls soccer co-coach Colin Barton tossed a hard hat, symbolizing hard work, where his team sat following a 1-1 tie against Chugiak in the third-place game Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium.
He tearfully walked away from the girls, only to have his entire team follow seconds later and wrap their arms around him. The JDHS girls soccer team finished tied for third place in the Alaska School Activities Association State Soccer Championships, but the emotions and atmosphere following the game will be what the team and coaches remember.
"These girls play with so much heart," JDHS senior Margaret Sekona said.
Tears flowed freely after the game, though the tone wasn't entirely sad. It was the closing of one chapter on a couple levels. Ten seniors from the team will graduate today. Saturday also marked Barton's final game as co-coach.
"Colin is amazing," JDHS defender Michaela Goade said. "He's like a big, little boy."
Juneau's determination and grit shined through in the 71st minute.
Down 1-0, Margaret Sekona provided one final, spectacular highlight.
Juneau's all-time leading scorer took a ball at midfield and then embarked on a mad dash to goal. Sekona beat at least half of Chugiak's players and rifled a shot past Chugiak goalkeeeper Mariah Hebbe for the equalizer.
Sekona scored many other goals in her four-year career, but none may be more memorable.
"It was so important to me," Sekona said. "This thing just capped it off because I worked so hard to get that goal. That just beats all of it for me. My goal (Friday) was to make sure we scored today."
Barton said, "That must have been the goal of the tournament, boys or girls. That was brilliant."
The goal tied the game after 1-1 after Alev Kelter scored in the 58th minute. The Chugiak striker headed in a cross form Sarah Watzke into the top-right corner.
Team members exchanged hugs and tissues after the game. A third-place finish is memorable, but memories and friendships will be Juneau's true prize to a team that's played together since they were eight.
Not to mention one special embrace, a gift from the team to its coach.
"It was really, really moving," Barton said. "They're a great bunch of kids."
Service 2, Juneau-Douglas 1
Juneau-Douglas started with energy to spare, but two brilliant goals by Service's Amanda Dotten lifted the Cougars to a semifinal win at Anchorage Football Stadium.
Down 1-0, Dotten tied the game with a right-footed blast in the 21st minute. She then put Service ahead in the 53rd minute after unleashing a shot while being defended by two Juneau fullbacks.
JDHS created a terrific chance to force overtime with seconds left in regulation. Rachel Tarver rocketed a free kick from about 20 yards out over a four-person wall, but Service goalkeeper Jaime Gorman alertly shifted to her right to save the shot and the game.
"We can say we gave it our all," Juneau's Annika Ord said. "We played 100 percent."
Despite losing twice to Service by identical 2-0 scores earlier in the season, Juneau-Douglas fearlessly started the game and immediately attacked.
Ord put JDHS ahead 1-0 in the third minute after she headed in a loose ball. The fullback-turned-midfielder immediately threw both hands on her head and sprinted after the goal as the Crimson Bears celebrated.
"I'm used to being a defender so it's a little bit different scoring," Ord said.
Minutes later, JDHS goalkeeper Kayla Walton made a key reaction save on a Service striker as it appeared to be Juneau's night.
"The way we started was exactly the way we talked about starting," JDHS co-coach Colin Barton said.
Service gradually found its footing, however, and started to assert itself offensively
Dotten took a leading pass and perfectly placed a shot past a sprawling Walton to tie the score.
Dotten then put Service ahead in the second half by uncorking a laser despite being tightly defended by Michaela Goade and Jenna Rutecki.
"We just met a team that was a little better than us on this day," Barton said.
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or email@example.com.