The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears boys soccer team showed why they are one of the premier programs in Alaska dominating the Soldotna Stars 4-0 in the championship game of the ASAA Division II State Soccer Tournament, Saturday, at West Anchorage High School, winning their second consecutive state title and not giving up a goal.
“I think today going in we talked about saving the best for last and we certainly played a very good first half,” JDHS coach Gary Lehnhart said. “We also wanted to have a shutout for the whole tournament, and we did that. They reached their goals. They wanted to go back-to-back and we did that. I challenged this group, of seniors mostly, to really take an on the field leadership role, being coaches on the field. And I had to trust them with it once they started doing it. They really embraced it. They started talking, they started communicating. They started making decisions on the field, some of which I didn’t agree with but I just had to take a step back because that was what I asked for and I needed to let them do it. They proved worthy of it, like no other team I had. I am happy for this group of seniors. They paid their dues and it was nice to see them rewarded.”
JDHS would have more goals in the first half than Soldotna had shots against the Crimson Bears.
Roughly five minutes into action JDHS senior Kean Buss passed a ball to Kellen Chester who put a shot on goal that the Soldotna keeper deflected and sophomore Ahmir Parker knocked it in.
Three minutes later Buss had a throw-in that senior Will Robinson headed in.
Buss would score the next two goals, both assisted by sophomore Kai Ciambor, the second of which was in first half stoppage time and Ciambor put a crisp touch from the far left side across the goal mouth that Buss corralled and put in.
“I think it was the group part of it,” Buss said of his favorite memory of the game. “After every goal just how happy we all were for each other. It is a good way to end my high school career.”
Buss, Ciambor, Parker and junior keeper Alex Mallott all were voted to the All-State Tournament team.
“Kai had another brilliant game,” said Lehnhart. “He helps make things go because he is such a dynamic player, and teams key on him and that really opened things up for Kean and Ahmir and those guys on top. Kai takes a lot of pressure off them and he is a great passer. It is good to see his game evolve where he doesn’t have to be just a scorer.”
Buss received the ASAA Player of the Game nod and also the team’s WWE Belt Award.
The belt could have gone to senior Tayten Bennetsen as well, according to Lehnhart, as JDHS had a goal rescinded in the second half off a set piece with Bennetsen heading it into the net.
“That would have been the perfect ending as I have never spent so much time with a team working on that,” said Lehnhart. “It was a powerful header.”
Bennetsen and senior Micah Brown were ASAA Good Sport Team selections, a four-year award for players who exemplify sportsmanship.
Bennetsen said his highlight of the game, “had to be the first goal. Ahmir scoring was really cool because our whole team came to him and it was a really fun hug.”
Brown said, “The game was crazy lit sauce. It was fun. A great way to go out. It was awesome. It was great, especially with a shut out for the whole tournament. Just working with Jesper (Bennetsen – freshman) and Tayten in the back made it really easy for me.”
Lehnhart also noted the belt could be in Robinson’s trophy case every game as well. Robinson is noted as one of the better soccer defenders and he has progressed into an offensive force this season as well.
“I am going to remember with my teammates how much it has been a great season,” Robinson said. “Obviously we remember the wins, the games, the fun we had playing soccer this whole time but I will remember all these people, they are friends for life. We are all looking out for each other. We all celebrate each others victories. We are definitely a very close knit team.”
Senior Jack Schwarting, a first-year soccer player, noted how welcoming the club was.
“I was super glad Gary took all seniors up here, it has been a meaningful trip for me,” Schwarting said. “It was a really amazing feeling to be part of everybody running out on to the field and celebrating after we won.”
Exchange student Wasiq Wajahat Malik, from India, playing on his first organized soccer team said, “It has been an amazing experience for me. They have been like a family to me. Gary is a father figure and coach Tulio (Fontanella) is like a big brother to me. It has been an amazing experience and winning a state championship is the best feeling ever.”
When he stepped on the pitch in the Adair-Kennedy snow for the first time Malik did not think it was a good idea.
“But I was totally wrong,” he said. “Playing soccer in the rain and snow? But I am proud of my decision.”
The trickle down effect from senior players to their younger teammates has been a trademark of the Crimson Bears. It was demonstrated in the state title match last season by then senior Tias Carney who turned a deficit score around and allowed Ciambor, then a freshman, to flourish.
“It is just amazing because for most of these seniors I have grown up with them,”Ciambor said. “Juneau is such a small town we are always close and always in contact and always getting together. So getting to play together on the field is amazing and obviously getting the result we wanted I can’t think of anything better. We worked so hard on being a team all season. When ever I can give them the opportunity to score and put it in is just incredible.”
• Contact Klas Stolpe at email@example.com.