Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) - It took a pandemic to slow the Thunder Mountain boys soccer team’s title hopes a year ago.
But nothing could stop the Falcons from claiming the school’s first-ever soccer championship on Saturday at Anchorage’s Service High School with a 3-2 win over Soldotna.
“That was awesome,” Thunder Mountain coach Tim Lewis said, his voice growing emotional. “Soldotna was amazing, our kids were amazing. It was a great game… I am proud of them.”
Thunder Mountain was resilient this tournament, losing senior starter Elias West to a broken ankle in the tourney opener, a 9-2 win over Monroe, and junior Phillip Lam for half of that same match.
They learned from an early state exit two years ago that injuries mean the rest of team steps up. TMHS did that and more, pushing through Friday’s 3-1 semifinal win over Kenai and marching into Saturday’s match against Soldotna and achieving a goal set since middle school.
“That was great,” junior Talon Briggs said. “Ever since middle school, all of our group, ever since club, we have just been talking about this day. It was physical both ways, but we all knew we were here to compete. We just kept our heads in the game.”
Falcons freshman Owen Adams scored the first goal of the game just six minutes into action with an assist by Lam.
Senior Gavin Gende tamed a ball near the far corner of the pitch and blasted a left-footed strike into the net 10 minutes later.
“We really started from the bottom here,” Gende said. He was not just referring to the state tournament but to the team’s past four seasons. “Freshman year, we won one game that season and tied JD for the first time in our soccer history. Sophomore season, we came back and beat JD for the first time in history and went to state for the first time, and we went to double overtime with JD in the state semifinals. Junior year, we had big things planned and COVID came and ruined it. Senior year, we had to give it all we got and we did.”
After the Stars put in a goal at the 17 minute mark of the first half, the Falcons Wallace Adams and Briggs each had near goals with headers in the box.
Physical play throughout seemed to be the Stars only game plan against the Falcons, and W. Adams fractured his ankle when he landed awkwardly during a physical run and did not return. Adams was the vocal key of the Falcons. When emotions ran high, Adams kept everyone settled and concentrated on the players’ longtime goal.
“Yeah, we lost Wallace this game,” Briggs said. “And Elias, our starting right back, the other game, but we just did it for them and all the seniors that put so much work into this program.”
Soldotna had marked senior Logan Miller throughout the match, owing to the All-State performer’s work over his career and respecting the power of his legs. With so much concentration on the senior captain, the rest of the Falcons were given better opportunities.
“It was a tough game,” Miller said. “It was tough for myself to settle in at first, but then I moved to the center and I was able to make passes and stuff. I have been playing with some of those guys on the other team, too, and it is just normal and you get used to it and we were able to get the result. This means everything to us. For us as a team to do this with two starters out, that means so much. It proves all the hard work we put in every single day was worth it. We played so well together, we’re like a family. It is just the best feeling ever to do it with some pieces missing and just come together as a team.”
Briggs came through from 35 yards on center with a blast at the 7:30 mark for a 3-1 advantage before the half.
Soldotna got one goal back on a penalty kick with 19 minutes remaining in the game. But Thunder Mountain muscled up to the spirited attacks and marked the Soldotna side throughout.
Miller and Gende and W. Adams and Briggs were selected to the All-State Tournament team.
“As a coach it’s great to have a front row seat to the time and dedication these guys have to the game,” Falcons coach Lewis said. “This has been what the seniors have been working towards their high school careers and to see their dreams come to fruition is the ultimate victory. I’m really proud of them and excited about the ground work they have laid for the underclassmen.”
Elias West commented on Sunday.
“I think that the young players played a key part in stepping up when me and Wallace were injured and I think that a lot of the sophomores and freshmen really proved themselves at state,” West said. “Getting the state title means so much to us because it feels like the culmination of three or four years of hard work and dedication and I think that or team has really bonded with each other over that period so it feels amazing to finally win something as a group.”
Wallace Adams acknowledged on Sunday that losing any senior during a state championship is hard and a core defender like West was detrimental.
“We had dealt with an adversity similar to this during our first ru at the title my freshman year,” Adams said. “Losing a star player can kill a team’s chance but it also provides them with a further drive to win, one that can’t be awoken by anything else.”
The Falcons two key injuries gave them that drive.
“This title and the trophy has been all that’s been n our minds since we were young kids,” Adams said. “Coming to Thunder Mountain and winning as state title was our dream and we accomplished it. Although I couldn’t be there to hoist the trophy, I’m just happy that our many senior leaders were able to do what they set out to do. I’m grateful that god gave us the opportunity to do this while many others were not. Seniors like Logan and Gavin changed the future of this program forever and I’ll miss them greatly. We’ll be back to make a run at the state title again next year.”
JDHS Boys Third
The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears boys rebounded from their 3-1 semifinal loss to Soldotna on Friday by topping Kenai 3-0 in their Saturday consolation final to take third place at third place at the state soccer championships in Anchorage.
Crimson Bears junior Matthias Carney scored two goals and junior Callan Smith one. Carney and junior Sam Holst were All-State Tournament selections.
The Crimson Bears also won the Team Academic Award for highest grade point average and the Sportsmanship Award.