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Pitch-perfect Dimond High girls try to keep their soccer streak low-key

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: May 11
  • Published May 10

Ali Keller, the captain of the Dimond Lynx girls soccer team that is riding a 52-match unbeaten streak, says exactly the kind of things her coach hopes to hear.

"We don't talk about the wins," she said Wednesday after her team's most recent victory. "We go game to game, and sometimes we forget about how dominant we are."

That's just how coach Tim Valesko wants it to be.

Valesko, 47, was a young assistant coach for Service High back in 1999 when the Cougars were near the end of one of the longest  unbeaten streaks in Alaska history.

The Service girls went 93 matches — from 1994 to 1999 — without a loss. But by the time defeat finally came at the hands of Bartlett in the conference semifinals, the streak felt more like a burden than a blessing.

"We were at a point where the team came out playing not to lose," Valesko said. "They were too tentative. They thought, 'We're gonna lose the streak.'

"They talked about it. We never talk about it."

What the Lynx talk about is soccer. How to win the second ball, how to create space. Listen to the team during halftime and you don't hear an inspirational speech. You hear instruction.

There's a reason for that, Valesko said.

"Chance favors the prepared," he said. "We go over a lot of facets of the game — set pieces, pattern play. We try to play a possession-based game."

Dimond is 49-0-3 since its last loss, which came at the 2015 state tournament when South beat the Lynx 3-0 in a first-round match.

Keller is among nine players who have been around for unbeaten seasons in 2016 and 2017. This year's team is 12-0-2 with less than three weeks left in the season.

Keller said she didn't even realize the Lynx had a long streak going until someone brought it up a week or so ago.

"My sophomore year we started winning game after game, and you don't even realize you're not losing games," she said.

"Our main goal is always (the state tournament). We know if a loss comes before then it won't break us. You can't let a defeat define you as a team."

Like any team that crafts a multi-year streak, the ability to reload with new talent each season has been key to Dimond's ongoing success.

The Lynx lost several players from last year's team, including two who played NCAA Division I soccer this school year — Alison Shafer (Idaho State) and Kelsey Eagle (Seattle University).

A number of sophomores have stepped up this year, including newcomer Kana Mateaki, a 5-foot gift from the islands. Mateaki and her family moved to Anchorage from Maui last year, and she quickly emerged as a sparkplug this year.

She leads the Lynx in scoring with 10 goals and six assists for 26 points in 13 games. She's tiny but teeming with skills — speed, flexibility, strong footwork.

Mateaki comes from a soccer-playing family and as the family planned its move to Alaska, she was happy to learn Dimond was the reigning state champion.

"I was excited to see how they play," she said. "I think this team is better than my team in Maui."

The Lynx were nearly 40 games into their streak by the time Mateaki joined the team, "so I don't think of myself as contributing to that." But she can see why it's happening.

"We work hard. We have good chemistry. We find players and we get (the ball) in the back of the net," she said.

Besides Mateaki, Dimond has five players who have scored double-figure points. Junior Kylie Judd has 21 (10 goals, one assist), sophomores Shelby Zimmerman and Mallory Thomas have 13 apiece and senior Kaleigh Howarth, who is headed to Division I Weber State next school year, and sophomore Hailey Rose have 10 points apiece.

"We're 25 deep," Valesko said.

On Wednesday, the Lynx were too much for Service, one of two teams that have battled Dimond to a tie this season.

Mateaki and senior Sophia Odron supplied goals and senior goalkeeper Dru Keizer posted her seventh shutout of the season to lift Dimond to a 2-0 victory at Dimond Alumni Field. The win avenged a 2-2 tie in mid-April.

Dimond's other tie this season was a scoreless duel with West, which has yet to lose a match in Cook Inlet Conference play.

The Dimond-West rematch is Tuesday at West High. Before that, Dimond plays a nonconference match Friday against Colony and a CIC match Saturday against Chugiak. The Lynx wrap up regular-season play May 18 against Eagle River.

Don't expect the Lynx to talk much about the streak as their season winds down — "We don't want to jinx it," Keller said — but should the unbeaten stretch end, Valesko knows exactly what he'll say.

It's the same thing coaches told the Service Cougars 19 years ago when they lost for the first time in 94 matches, he said: "Let's start another streak."

The Dimond Lynx circled together for a cheer before the start of a game at Chugiak High School on May 7, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Streaking in Alaska

Here are some of the longest unbeaten streaks in Alaska high school sports. If you know of any others, send the details to sports@adn.com.

100-plus

Service gymnastics — The Cougars posted 18 straight undefeated seasons, winning more than 100 meets in a row, in a championship run that ended in 2004.

97

Ninilchik girls basketball — The Wolverines won five straight state titles from 2000 to 2004, although their winning streak didn't include their win in the 2004 Class 2A championship game — the week before, Bristol Bay beat Ninilchik in the region tournament to end the streak at 97 games.

93

East softball — The T-birds won 93 straight games before losing a game in May 2016.

Service girls soccer — The Cougars had a 93-match unbeaten streak from 1994-99.

77

Service girls soccer — The Cougars went 77 matches without a loss during a run that ended in 1991.

59

Soldotna football — The Stars won their sixth straight state championship last season by rolling to their 59th straight victory.

51

Monroe Catholic girls basketball — State titles in 2013 and 2014 were part of the Rams' 51-game run that ended in December 2014.

50

Chugiak softball — The Mustangs won 50 in a row in 2003 and 2004 before losing the 2004 state championship game to Juneau.

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