Juneau United coach Randy Quinto called defensive end Puna Toutaiolepo and wide receiver Hansel Hinckle the unsung leaders of his team this season.
Not unsung anymore, though.
Toutaiolepo and Hinckle, in addition to wide receiver Max Wheat, were named first-team All-Chugach Conference in an email sent out to coaches on Tuesday. Juneau United also saw Caleb Traxler, Cooper Kriegmont, Marcos Yadao and Luis Mojica make it on the all-conference team, giving the program a small victory in a season largely defined by recurring defeats, one that ended with last weekend’s 65-12 loss to Bartlett High School.
Dealing with defeat for eight weeks in a row was something new to the coaching staff and varsity squad, which finished the season 0-8. Thunder Mountain High School went 6-2 last season and made it to the first round of playoffs. Juneau-Douglas finished last season a respectable 3-4.
“It was tough on everybody,” Quinto said. “The expectation from the community, from the student body.”
The team was still hurting for numbers even after the TMHS and JDHS programs combined. Over 20 seniors graduated from the two high schools last year, and while a dozen freshmen joined the team, most would not be ready for varsity action. Quinto said the low varsity numbers made for a troubling initial fit into the Division I ranks, made up of the state’s largest schools and best teams. JDHS and TMHS were formerly Division II teams.
“It’s a whole different animal up there,” Quinto said of Division I. “We walked onto the field against Bartlett and after the JV game, their whole JV (team) took off. They didn’t have any guys to swing and go JV and then varsity because they had enough to play varsity.”
Quinto also said it was also difficult getting players to buy into a fledgling program.
“What we’ve told our kids in the past is you don’t earn a spot in the offseason, but you can lose yours,” Quinto said. “We need to develop that mentality again or get these kids to realize they need to be in (the weight room) now. A couple of our kids after that Bartlett game, they’re like, ‘I don’t ever want to feel overpowered and outmanned like that again.’”
The varsity team’s struggles were only part of the story of this season. The junior varsity team, which was re-established after disappearing at JDHS and TMHS for several years, took fans on a fun six-week journey, posting wins over Lathrop, Wasilla and Colony. In Week 6, they went up late against Chugiak only to watch the Mustangs kick a game-winning field goal with four seconds remaining.
.@FootballChugiak JV escapes with the win on a late field goal.
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“It was awesome to see them progress along the way and build that confidence against bigger and fast players,” JV coach Vince Yadao said.
The former JDHS coach believes the future is bright for those young players.
“The main thing is: Are they coachable and are they willing to put themselves out there for their team and their coaches and community? And I think they did,” Yadao said “This is the team of the future right here. I think as far as being competitive and winning seasons, we give the squad two more years to develop, I think we’re right there. I think we’ll playing in October within two years just because of what we saw this year.”
While his seniors won’t be part of that transformation, Quinto said they provided leadership at a crucial time for the program.
“Those guys are a big part of what I believe the younger guys saw in how to be a leader,” Quinto said. “I think most teams have issues with having leaders and how do we become a leader when the previous year we weren’t leaders? We weren’t the ‘Ra-ra guy’ or the guy people came to. And those guys stepped into that role really well.”
2018 Chugach All-Conference Team
First team: Hansel Hinckle, Puna Toutaiolepo, Max Wheat
Second team: Caleb Traxler, Cooper Kriegmont, Marcos Yadao, Luis Mojica
Hon. mention: Dawson Hickok, Jacob Ferster, Mathias Weiderspohn, Richie Lehner
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.