After a season like no other, the Thunder Mountain High School Falcons boys soccer team brought home the school’s first-ever, statewide soccer championship besting Soldotna in a hard-fought 3-2 victory. Across town, the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé boys team nabbed the third-place finish.
“We played an excellent game, and we came to play,” said TMHS soccer coach Tim Lewis. “The kids were ready, they were focused, and they went out and got it.”
Lewis credited the winning season to grit, years of preparation through club soccer and middle school and teamwork.
“While most of the kids are not known across Alaska, we fielded a solid starting 11 from front to back, left to right that could overwhelm opposing teams,” he said. “It was really a full team that works together. That’s why we ended up with the championship,” Lewis said.
Intense play created four All-State Tournament players for TMHS, including seniors Logan Miller and Gavin Gende and juniors Wallace Adams and Talon Briggs, Lewis said.
Lewis said he was proud of the team but that he couldn’t take all the credit for coaching them to victory.
“A lot of coaches worked with the boys over the years. I just happened to be the head coach this year,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see these guys go from kids to young men and see hard work rewarded.”
The team experienced a tough season leading up to the championship tournament and while playing in it.
During the tournament’s opener, an injury took junior Phillip Lam out of commission for half of the game. In the same game, senior Elias West suffered a season-ending injury that could have derailed the team emotionally and competitively.
“It was tough to see him go down. He’s been a starter in the same position for several years. We had to do some adjusting and moved some players around,” Lewis said, adding that he asked West who he’d like to cover his position.
West suggested his friend and long-time teammate Lucas Erickson take his place on the pitch.
“That created an emotional boost to his play,” Lewis said, adding that West joined the team via FaceTime for pre-game chats and cheers, to boost morale.
Before the championship, the team battled COVID quarantines, Zoom-based practices, canceled trips, player absences, player injuries, and a pre-season coaching swap.
“I’ll call it a whirlwind year,” Lewis said. “You had no idea what would happen week-to-week. The kids did whatever it took to still have their season.”
Lewis expects to be a contender in next year’s tournament, thanks to a large class of rising seniors.
“I know the kids are driven, he said.
Trophy serves as a metaphor
On the way home from Anchorage, the player figurine atop the state championship trophy suffered a slight injury that resulted in a broken ankle. Lewis said that was the perfect ending to the unusual season.
“It builds into the narrative of the injuries we faced at state and before,” Lewis said. “It’s a visual reminder of what it takes to persevere and stand up when others fall down. We will let it be displayed that way as part of the narrative of our program.”
JDHS finishes third
Across town, JDHS soccer coach Gary Lehnhart offered his congratulations to his team’s key rival.
“Congratulations to them. They had a great season,” Lehnhart said.
Lehnhart said that the Crimson Bears got better each week of the season, even if they didn’t get a shot at the state championship.
“We felt like we were getting better as the season went on,” he said.
JDHS beat North Pole High School 2-0 in the first round of play and then lost to second-place Soldotna 3-1 in the semi-finals before beating Kenai 3-0 in the consolation round.
Lehnhat said the team was disappointed to lose to Soldotna. “We made a mistake and didn’t put them away. Then they started with pressure. We had a chance and missed them,” he said.
Lehnhart said that the team’s last game was the best of the season across the board.
“It’s good to go out with a dominating performance. To see the growth and the team and see all these young players. I was really pleased with what they accomplished,” he added.
The Crimson Bears won the Team Academic Award for highest GPA and the Sportsmanship Award.
“Those awards speak highly of the kids and how the team conducts itself,” he said. “I like winning those awards.”
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.