A rainbow connects with Kajson Cunningham (30) as he connects with the ball for Thunder Mountain High School during Tuesday’s game against Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé at JDHS, the opening match of the season for both teams. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A rainbow connects with Kajson Cunningham (30) as he connects with the ball for Thunder Mountain High School during Tuesday’s game against Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé at JDHS, the opening match of the season for both teams. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

High school soccer season starts with a spectrum of goals and milestones

JDHS boys begin state title defense with 4-0 victory over TMHS, which is playing its final season.

Juneau’s two boys high school soccer teams have won the last three state titles — including playing against each other two years ago — but as they faced off again Tuesday in this season’s opening game both squads are facing challenges in their quests for another championship.

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, the reigning two-time defending champion, won Tuesday’s battle with a 4-0 victory over Thunder Mountain High School, but coach Gary Lehnhart said afterward a lot of key seniors from last year’s team are now elsewhere and the game showed there are plenty of areas for improvement.

“We played individually, we dribbled too much, we didn’t play as a group,” he said. “And I think some of that came with the frustration of creating opportunities early and not scoring. And so then we started trying to do it ourselves. And then we just really slowed down. But give them credit. They competed, they never gave up and they kept making it hard for us. Their goalkeeper (senior Dawson Menz) I thought had a good game and definitely made it difficult for us.”

A rainbow shines down on Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé players as the team scores a first-half goal against Thunder Mountain High School during the teams’ opening game of the 2024 season at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A rainbow shines down on Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé players as the team scores a first-half goal against Thunder Mountain High School during the teams’ opening game of the 2024 season at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

TMHS, who won the title in 2021 before losing the championship match to JDHS in 2022, has an extra element of motivation and pressure as it seeks to regain top status: this will be the team’s final season due to the merging of all students in grades 9-12 into JDHS next fall as part of a districtwide consolidation plan. The Falcons fell short of making the state tournament last year, but coach Tim Lewis said he feels optimistic about this year’s team despite the opening-game loss.

“We’ve got a team that I’m expecting to do better than our record last year,” he said. “I think we’ve got a bunch of guys who have got a year of experience under their belts. We’ve got a lot of seniors with a lot of maturity there. So I think I’m expecting a higher level of play.”

One common element for the teams is a high number of players on the rosters.

“We’ve got a very large roster, our largest roster we’ve ever had,” Lewis said. “So it’s kind of exciting. I wish I had a lot of these guys when they were freshmen. We have over 20 seniors. There’s a lot of guys who just want to finish strong.”

Thunder Mountain High School’s Fixx Siner (11) and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Kellen Chester (10) fight for the ball during Tuesday’s season-opening game for both teams at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School’s Fixx Siner (11) and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Kellen Chester (10) fight for the ball during Tuesday’s season-opening game for both teams at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Lehnhart said that while he lost several seniors from last year who were essentially coaches as well as players on the field, this year’s team has a surprisingly high number of seniors.

“We got this strange influx of players who had never played before who showed up this year to play,” he said. “So we actually have like 12 (to) 14 seniors, but I think eight or 10 of them didn’t even play last year. So it’s a completely new group, and a couple of then played tonight and did OK.”

Conditions during Tuesday’s game matched the spectrum of elements the teams are encountering this season, ranging from sunny to drizzle to heavy rain to a brief flirtation with snow. At one point a rainbow stretched over the field, with one endpoint as seen from the teams’ vantage point landing on the Falcons’ net as the Crimson Bears scored one of their goals.

JDHS’ Kai Ciambor, a junior, was the star of the game by scoring the first three goals of the game, plus an assist to Ahmir Parker, a junior who scored the fourth and final goal for the Crimson Bears.

Ahmir Parker (9) celebrates after scoring the fourth and final goal for Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé during Tuesday’s game against Thunder Mountain High School at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ahmir Parker (9) celebrates after scoring the fourth and final goal for Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé during Tuesday’s game against Thunder Mountain High School at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Crimson Bears controlled the game while taking a 2-0 lead during the first half, keeping the ball mostly on the Falcons’ side of the field and putting Menz to the test with a multitude of shots. The game turned into more of a standoff during the second half with both teams missing opportunities, although JDHS was able to press its advantage enough for Ciambor to get his hat trick goal midday through and Parker to score as the closing minutes approached.

The teams’ next game will be a rematch against each other at 5:15 p.m. April 16 at JDHS.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

More photos from Tuesday’s game:

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

More in Sports

An orange-crowned warbler looks for bugs on a willow (Photo by K.M. Hocker)
Thunder Mountain High School pitcher Jack Lovejoy catches a line-drive hit to end the Region V softball championship game against Sitka High School on Saturday at Melvin Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Thunder Mountain High School Falcons are conference champs, heading to state softball title tournament

TMHS rebounds from 19-12 loss in back-to-back Saturday games against Sitka, wins finale 9-3.

A Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé player tries to control the ball during a May 3 game at Adair-Kennedy Field. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
JDHS comes up short in state soccer title games

Boys fall behind early in 4-1 loss to Soldotna, girls miss opportunities in 2-0 loss to Kenai.

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé goalkeeper Alex Mallott stops a shot by Ketchikan’s Joe Larson (9) during the Crimson Bears 4-2 win May 17 over the Kings during the regional tournament at Adair-Kennedy Field. JDHS defeated Ketchikan again in state semifinals to advance to the state title game. (Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire file photo)
Both JDHS soccer teams are playing for the state title on Saturday

Boys to defend crown in rematch against Soldotna, followed by top-seeded girls against Kenai Central

(Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire file photo)
Both JDHS soccer teams advance to state semifinals after decisive wins

Top-seeded girls stay undefeated with 5-0 win against Palmer, second-seeded boys top Homer 3-1.

The author’s wife kneels to net a trout over the weekend. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: Live free, fish hard

In my young trout bum days I’d go hard. It was the… Continue reading

An orca swims beside a boat near Berners Bay on May 12. (Photo by Eric Jorgensen)
On the Trails: Orcas, ducks, warblers and others

I went on the Audubon cruise to Berners Bay in May, on… Continue reading

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior battery Lamar Blatnick (catcher) and Landon Simonson (pitcher) bump fists on the mound with teammates as they begin their final home game at Adair-Kennedy Field on Saturday. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)
Crimson Bears honor seniors with Saturday diamond sweep over Falcons

JDHS’ Blatnick, Simonson pitch complete game wins against TMHS.

Most Read