The 2022 Alaska high school soccer season came to an official close at Service High on Saturday at the state tournament. Four champions were crowned, including the South boys and Dimond girls in Division I. The other two came from the same school as both the boys and girls teams from Juneau-Douglas high school claimed Division II titles.
In Division I action, the South boys team beat the West Eagles 2-1 in a highly emotional overtime thriller that went down to the wire and ended with the Wolverines claiming their first state title since 2017.
“I had all the belief in the world that they could win a state title and they had that same belief,” South boys coach Brad Horton said. “When you get into a tournament like this and you’re clicking that’s when it really matters and these boys were clicking.”
West scored first in the first half and held on to the narrow lead until there were just under nine minutes left in the game. South was able to tie the game when freshman Dawit Hoffman found the back of the net to knot the score.
“For him to find the corner like that under pressure was unbelievable,” Horton said. “It took all the pressure off our backs and I knew that if we could one, we could get two.”
South’s Kasen Rodriguez came up clutch to take the lead with less than a minute remaining in the first half of the extra period.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better moment for Kasen to step up,” Horton said. “I challenged him to be the difference in this game and he certainly was the difference.”
Rodriguez had to leave the field immediately after scoring what would go on to be the game-winning goal because he tore of his shirt and begun sprinting on the track in celebration even though the game wasn’t over just yet.
“I’ll probably have to pay for the shirt but it’s a really great feeling, especially as a senior,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a great way to finish soccer season and get our school another trophy. Once I scored, I took my shirt off and had a feeling that we were going to seal the deal.”
Horton says that his team has felt underrated all season but is elated that they were able to prove that they could be champions.
“Being the third seed out of our conference and the fourth seed out of the tournament, I think we kind of felt like a little bit of the underdog,” Horton said. “I think that helped and the boys fed off of that and fed off the energy that we had. The results speak for themselves and we’re the best team in the state in my opinion.”
For the 12th year in a row, excluding the 2020 cancelled season, the Division I girls state championship was one going to be won by either Dimond or South. The Lynx prevented the Wolverines from being the second school of the day to claim a pair of state soccer titles with a 2-0 win over their rivals.
“We were just going to press every time we got the ball,” Dimond head coach Tim Valesko said. “We weren’t going to let them serve it. We were going to have somebody off and it worked really well.”
The three-time defending state champs controlled the game from start to finish and didn’t take long getting on the scoreboard. Only 17 seconds had came off the game clock when junior Tatum Porter found the back of the net for the opening score.
“I didn’t even mean to score but it went in so I’ll take it,” Porter said. “I think it just lifted everyone up at once and just brought us our energy and we just dominated after.”
While he admitted to being a little surprised when it happened, Valesko believes it caught the Wolverines off guard even more as his team set an early tone.
“I think that maybe put them on their heels a little bit,” Valesko said. “They came in with some injuries so they weren’t as deep as we were so credit to them.”
The other goal came on a header from sophomore Kaiulani Mateaki with just about six minutes left to extend Dimond’s lead to what seemed like and insurmountable margin given the flow of the game and how dominant the Lynx were on the defensive end.
“To go out the way the girls played was pretty cool,” Valesko said. “From the defense, mids and forwards, they all came out to play and I thought they did a wonderful job.”
This marked Valesko’s fifth and final state title as the head coach of the Lynx as he is taking some time off from coaching high school soccer but will still be involved and teaching the game in club soccer.
An emotional Porter was glad to be able to send off her beloved coach and senior teammates on top with one more championship.
“It felt so good,” Porter said while crying tears of joy. “I’ve been playing with them my whole life and I’ve grown to love every one of them and I am so happy I could do this for them. This is the seniors’ night.”
Valesko also wanted to dedicate the game and the victory to his best friend’s mother who recently passed away of cancer, Charlotte Eberle.
The Juneau-Douglas boys got it kicked off with an incredible second half comeback over their crosstown rival Thunder Mountain Falcons. After falling behind 2-0 in the first 42 minutes, the Crimson Bears scored four answered goals to secure a 4-2 win thanks to three goals from freshman Kai Ciambor.
“I knew that I could dribble through these guys because we’ve played them three other times and they just went in,” Ciambor said.
While Ciambor led the team in scoring with his three straight goals including the game-tying and winning goals, Juneau’s come-from-behind effort was sparked by senior Matthias Carney who first got the team on the board at the 30:52 mark in the second half.
“(Matthias) single-handedly dribbled through the whole team and got it in and that just flipped a switch in our whole team,” Ciambor said. “We knew that we had it in us and we got it done.”
The Crimson Bears went into halftime down 1-0 and even though they let up another at the 38:40 mark, they came out with a renewed mindset after receiving an inspiring speech from their head coach, Gary Lehnhart, during the intermission.
“He said we had to play faster, we knew we were better than this team and that we can play better,” Ciambor said.
Lehnhart said that Carney had two seasons cut short by injuries but he is the leader of the team and turned the tide in their favor with his timely goal.
“Kai scored the game winners but (Matthias) turned that game with his first goal and his effort,” Lehnhart said. “He has been a great leader and a great player.”
This marked the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season and while it is bittersweet for some of the players as many of them are close friends and former teammates of many of the Thunder Mountain players, they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We wanted to play the best in the finals and they were the other best team,” Lehnhart said. “Even though we beat them twice this year, I think we needed to prove it to ourselves on more time.”
The girls game wasn’t nearly as dramatic but ended with a Juneau-Douglas team hoisting a championship trophy nonetheless. With their 3-0 win over the Grace Christian Grizzlies, the Crimson Bears claimed their fourth straight state title, excluding the 2020 season that was canceled due to COVID-19.
“They’ve been coaching themselves,” Juneau-Douglas girls coach Matt Dusenberry said. “They’ve been here, they’ve done it and they knew what it took. They kept playing their heads down and and played soccer.”
Senior Blake Plummer didn’t waste any time getting her team on the board when she scored the first goal of the game less than two minutes after it started. Her fellow senior and all-state tournament honoree, Kyla Bentz, scored the second goal less than five minutes into the second half and her younger sister, Cadence, capped it off with a third at the 16:30 mark.
“I’ve been telling her to take it yourself and if you see it, do it,” Plummer said. “She turned around and looked at me and I said ‘That’s what you get, reward yourself for your hard work.’ ”
Plummer, Bentz, and the rest of the class of 2022 on the team have lost as many games (3) as they’ve won state titles in their careers.
“That’s pretty awesome and obviously winning feels great,” Plummer said. “It’s crazy to say that I’ve only lost three and only one my freshman year and two this year.”
She said her last ride has been especially memorable because she has been able to see her sister grow and they have been able to enjoy tremendous success together.
“I’ve loved playing with my sister,” Plummer said. “She has improved so much since last year. She has gotten a lot more confident in herself and she was crying more than I was.”