After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of last spring’s boy’s soccer season, the steady cold rain falling Tuesday night didn’t dampen the enthusiasm as crosstown high school rivals Thunder Mountain and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé took the field for their first match-up since 2019.
TMHS carried the night with a final score of 3- 2 after scoring two goals in the last six minutes of play.
Tuesday was the season-opener for JDHS. Earlier this month, TMHS beat Ketchikan twice in a row, winning 7-0 and 3-1.
“It’s great to be outside and seeing kids being active again. It’s been almost two year years since most of them have played soccer consistently, and I’m glad and appreciative that we have the option to play this year,” said Timothy Lewis, coach at TMHS.
JDHS coach Gary Lehnhart agreed that being back on the pitch changes dynamics.
“It feels good to be back with people. Even though we’ve been training since the fall, there’s something different about being outside and everyone being together. In the winter, we trained with social distance, which was weird. Being outside feels closer to normal.”
Skipped season leaves questions
With a long pause on play, both coaches are curious about how the season will unfold.
Lehnhart said that JDHS’s roster is stacked with a younger crew.
“The first game of any season is always a mystery,” Lehnhart said. “This year is very different because we went a whole year where we didn’t play anything, and I’ve never seen most of the team in a game. But, everyone is dealing with that. We have a strong junior class and a talented sophomore class.”
“We have quite a few sophomores starting for us,” Lehnhart said, adding that his team only has two seniors due to injuries. “We lost senior Forrest Davis to a knee injury. He was a leader for us.”
Lehnhart said that junior Tias Carney provides a presence in the middle and helps to lead the team.
“This program has a long history, and our goal is always the state tournament,” Lehnhart said. “I’m really pleased with the way the group is practicing and how they get along.”
By contrast, the TMHS team is heavy on experienced players. But the team has been thwarted by a snow-covered field, limited practice opportunities because of COVID quarantine requirements last week, and a smaller roster compared to historical norms.
“This year will be a lesson on doing more with less,” Lewis said. One month into the season, we’ve had only two full soccer practices on a fully cleared soccer field. However, this is the most technically and tactically proficient team I’ve been privileged to be a part of since I’ve been working with the TMHS boys program.”
Lewis said the technical proficiency spans all grade levels.
“The team has quality players front to back on all grade levels, which is a blessing,” Lewis said.
He added that the team includes a solid group of players who would have been four-year starters — save the pandemic — including, Gavin Gende, Logan Miller and Elias West. He said that junior starters Wallace Adams, Talon Briggs and Phillip Lam help drive the team.
Like JDHS, the team is looking to the state tournament in late May.
“The kids want to make it back to the state tournament again. About half of the team got their first taste, and TMHS Boys soccer program’s first appearance, at the state tournament back in 2019. They are still hungry to show the rest of Alaska what they are capable of,” Lewis said.
He continued: “These kids have faced a lot of obstacles this year. From remote schooling to a shortened season, limited travel, limited practice times and spaces, quarantine, Zoom game film review sessions, to the never-ending snow and the shoveling of said snow, these kids have done admirably, and I’m proud of them. They have taken everything in stride.”
•Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.