The Juneau boys began defense of their state soccer title on the right foot Thursday at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium, thanks in large part to the feet of senior Johnny Joyce.
"Johnny, he has one of the most dangerous shots from distance that I've seen in Alaska in a while," said Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart.
Joyce scored on two long-range rockets and earned an assist in the Crimson Bears' 4-1 win over Colony in the first round of the state high school soccer championships.
In other first-round action, South edged Wasilla 2-1 in overtime at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium, and in two boys' matches at Dimond Alumni Field, West defeated West Valley, 2-0, and top-seeded Dimond knocked off Homer, 2-1.
The Juneau boys are attempting to win their third straight state title and fourth in five years. Despite losing most of the starters from last season's squad, the Crimson Bears looked sharp right from the opening touch.
"We graduated virtually the entire starting lineup," Lehnhart said. "The thing I was most surprised about (this season) was that (the new starters) were able to get up to speed quickly."
The new guys didn't miss a beat, controlling the ball with sharp passes and crisp shots. Joyce opened scoring with a low blast from about 30 yards out, and he put the Crimson Bears up 2-0 with a nearly identical kick from the nearly the same spot in the 20th minute. Joyce assisted Jackson Lehnhart on a second-half goal, and Jericho Cristobal completed the scoring Juneau on an assist from Lehnhart.
Joyce, who was part of last season's championship squad, said the Crimson Bears are all proud to be part of a storied Juneau program, but aren't placing too much emphasis on repeating.
"This year is what matters, this year is what we are all focused on," Joyce said. "The past is the past."
Juneau's match with Colony contained a bit of historical importance, being the first match in state tournament history to include two coaches with more than 200 wins, Colony coach Jeremy Johnson said.
Johnson, who is in his 18th season with Colony, and Lehnhart, in his 19th with Juneau, coached against each other in the 2000 state title match. Colony won that match for its only state title, and Juneau has won five titles since.
Johnson enjoys coaching against Lehnhart, but gets a little tired of going up against Juneau's dynamic teams every year. Both coaches offered plenty of positive words for their teams Thursday, during and after the match. Jacob Spannagel, who scored Colony's lone goal, said he loves playing for a coach like Johnson.
"His whole mindset for playing is just wonderful," Spannagel said. "You get to have fun, and you get to play soccer and try hard. It's about teamwork and he really sets a good atmosphere for that."
One of Lehnhart's favorite parts of coaching is getting to see kids grow up and become part of a great team. He's known many of his players since they were in grade school and said many have been extremely patient, waiting until their senior season for a chance to show what they can do.
"Most of these kids, they aren't going to play again after this year," Lehnhart said. "This is it, this is their deal, this is their time."
South 2, Wasilla 1, OT
South's Zak Naylor is accustomed to scoring goals, but the game winner he scored on a looping pass from Taylor Zietlow in overtime against Wasilla came as a surprise.
"The defender just misread it," Naylor said. "I tried to actually trap it and take it down and shoot it instead of just flicking it. Anything can happen at state."
The ball, which dropped toward the top of the penalty box from about a 25-foot apex, barely touched Naylor's foot before bounding into an open left side of the net. Zietlow, who booted the ball from near midfield, said his coach is always telling him to advance the ball toward the goal, so that's what he did.
"I didn't think it was going to get in the goal, but it did and I liked it," Zietlow said.
South opened scoring on a pretty shot from Hayden Western in the 17th minute. Wasilla's goal came on an Oleg Lozko corner kick, when Kyler Perry leaped above a crowd of players and headed the ball in for a 1-1 tie in the 27th minute.
"We battled them today," Perry said. "I don't think they knew we could keep up with them. I think we all came in pretty confident in ourselves and they just got lucky on that last goal."
Dimond 2, Homer 1
Dimond's Travis Merritt set himself up for what turned out to be a game-winning goal in the third minute of the second half to seal Dimond's 2-1 win over Homer.
"It was a pretty class goal," said Dimond coach John Oliver.
Dimond, the Cook Inlet Conference champion, took an early lead on a goal from Matt Froehlich and Homer scored an equalizer in the 30th minute to create a 1-1 tie into halftime.
Oliver said Homer played a nice style of soccer and was especially sharp in the first half.
"I think Homer just outworked us in the first half." he said. "They were winning the ball more and playing high pressure, so my guys were having to clear (the ball) a lot, and Homer won a lot of the air balls. In the second half, we settled down and started finding feet.''
West 2, West Valley 0
West's Gjergi Lena drilled a long-range laser and Muharem Selimi added a late goal to give the Eagles a 2-0 win over West Valley.
Lena's big shot came from about 25 yards out and put the Eagles up 1-0.
"When I get the ball where I want it, I can hit it pretty good," Lena said. "When I saw the opportunity, I took it."
Selimi's score was due in part to Abduraman Dauda's ability to disrupt the West Valley defense and cause a scramble in front of the net. Selimi tracked the ball down in traffic and capped a solid win for West.
"We were moving it around, winning 50-50 balls," Lena said. "Overall I thought we played pretty good."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News