Through the first six weeks of the 2022 high school soccer season, both of the South High teams are among the strongest contenders in Alaska.
Boys head coach Brad Horton credits the surge in success of the two programs to the growth of club soccer and the improvement of the people teaching the game in the Last Frontier.
“I think it is a combination of club soccer picking up in Alaska and also the coaching in Alaska has really risen as well,” Horton said. “You’re seeing that play into all the high school teams and it’s not just South,” Horton said.
Girls unbeaten through 11 games
After tying with reigning state champion Dimond in their season opener, the South girls have rattled off 10 straight wins and boast an overall record of 10-0-1. They are a young team mostly comprised of sophomores and freshmen but lean heavily on the leadership of their handful of upperclassmen.
“Their willingness to work and strive for excellence and the grit and mentality they have and the quality of soccer that they play has set the tone for how our whole team has evolved over the last three years,” girls head coach Lauren Meehan said.
There are three seniors and six upperclassmen in total on the team, two of which are captains in seniors Dot Tieszen and Grace Atteberry.
“They were freshmen in my first year here so I can’t believe they’re graduating seniors,” Meehan said “From the time I started with this group, Grace and Dot have really set the standard for how this team has been over our last three seasons.”
Tieszen said the success of the group has come largely from the ability to meld and mesh players.
“I’ve loved Lauren from the start,” Tieszen said. “She really did take us as her own and molded this group of girls from all different clubs and different playing styles and make into South soccer.”
The Wolverines and the Lynx have had a fierce rivalry brewing for over a decade with either team winning every state title since 2010.
“We have a pretty young group coming in so the game against Dimond was kind of ‘Lets go out and see what we have’ because we hadn’t really played as a group before,” Meehan said. “That was a great starting point for us.”
Tieszen says the team’s early matchup with Dimond served as a litmus test and a precursor to the eventual rematch.
“We always have really close games with Dimond then we do really well and we work on smaller things against other teams like our passing and our movement,” she said. “We sometimes switch up the lineup just to see what will work for the next time we do play our rivals.”
Meehan says it’s clear the players know each other well.
“Anchorage is a small town and a lot of these girls know each other really well from club so we’re not just rivals in high school,” Meehan said.
She said the team has every expectation to be back in the state title game.
“We feel good about what we have,” Meehan said. “We’re not satisfied just yet. We have a goal to win the state championship but we feel good about the path we’re on.”
Unheralded boys team doesn’t lack confidence
The South boys only suffered one loss through their first 11 games and remain undefeated in the conference with an overall record of 7-1-3. Their team is a confident bunch that has embraced the underdog role but believe they are the best team in the state.
“I think that we’re the team to beat in the state and conference,” senior Alonso Ponce de Leon said. “I think a lot of people underestimate us because they haven’t seen us until they’ve played us.”
The Wolverines have played reigning state champion Service twice already. South won 2-0 in the first matchup and nearly completed the sweep in the second before finishing in a 1-1 tie.
“There’s a lot of confidence within the group and there should be a lot of confidence because these guys are really good players,” Horton said. “Our senior class is fantastic. They’re a bunch of guys that have been here for three or four years.”
The Wolverines haven’t made it to the state finals since 2017, which was the last time they won it all. Horton said he understands why the team isn’t being talked about more to start the year.
“Dimond and Service have both been there recently so all the respect to them for having that aura about them but I definitely think South soccer is on the rise,” Horton said. “Probably for the next few years we’ll be one of the top teams.”
Ponce de Leon knows what it is like to be on a team that went from being widely doubted and overlooked. He was on the 2022 South boys basketball team that upset the heavily-favored and record-setting East High Thunderbirds to claim just the second state title in school history.
“We had multiple losses, were ranked third in our conference, no one believed in us but when the time comes, hard work shows at the end,” Ponce de Leon said.