Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Thunder Mountain High School girls soccer coach John Newell has promised his team one more season on the pitch. After 20-plus years coaching various Juneau teams, Newell said he is retiring.
“I built a house down in Nevada in 2019 and my wife has moved down there already,” Newell said. “But I told my seniors a few years ago that I would coach them through their senior year and they wouldn’t let me go back on that promise. So I stuck around an extra year to see them through it. This group of seniors have been with me through club soccer since middle school. It is pretty cool to see them get this advanced.”
Newell has been coaching club teams since 2000 while simultaneously coaching Floyd Dryden Middle School the past 13 years, and has been with Lady Falcons since 2013, including as head coach for a TMHS best third place state finish in 2019. He also had a stint at Juneau-Douglas from 2005-09. There were also the Parks and Recreation years and, oh yeah, he is an air traffic controller.
This season has seen a new challenge, not just because of the pandemic, but because of the snow. Teams have been spending practice time shoveling the field and this week was the first time they saw their home pitch.
“I would like to say our team is looking good, but the reality is, we don't really know yet,” he said. “It is hard to tell when you are just playing small sided games in a gym. What I can tell you though is that in 20 plus years of coaching, this team has some of the best team chemistry I've ever seen. They all get along really well with each other and are constantly joking, smiling and having fun. They are eager to practice and improve and it really shows, especially in the players that have just taken up soccer for fun in the last year or two. I'm looking forward to seeing how the JV team plays just as much as how the varsity does.”
Team captains Macey Fuette and Elizabeth Knapp were promised in middle school by Newell that he would stay until they graduated.
“Those are two of our standout players,” Newell said. “They have taken control of this team and get it organized. They help everybody out, from the brand new freshmen that have never played before to the other seniors that have been playing for years.”
Newell said the pandemic year off was at a time when teams usually see middle school players coming into the next level.
“I think collectively statewide we are not seeing that,” he said.
The team would usually be 36 players deep but has only 26. TMHS usually has a small number of athletes that pick soccer as a main sport and are supplemented by multi-sport athletes, with underclassmen needed to provide sports longevity.
“Those are 10 extra players we would have that are freshmen or sophomores,” he said.
Newell said this year’s team can adapt to whatever opponents bring.
“And then we can impose a different style on them,” he said. “We can shift from an offensive team to a defensive team. I think we are more of a control team, holding on to the ball, trying to keep possession, looking for the other team’s weaknesses and move the ball around more.”
He said they are trying to not be as physical, keeping social distancing in mind, “but we will see how that goes when we get into our first real competitive game if that keeps following through or not.”
Newell stated that after shoveling snow the past two weeks instead of practicing, he will not miss hanging up the coaches whistle. He will miss the reason he has blown a whistle.
“Win, lose or draw, this is the most fun team I have ever coached,” Newell said. “I am certainly going to miss coaching these girls next year.”
Newell said he could fill a book with favorite soccer memories.
One that stands out was watching his daughter (2012 JDHS grad Chrishtianna) play in college.
“She was a four-year starter for Oregon Tech,” he said. “She was a captain for the team and became an assistant coach for them in her fifth year. I was never able to play soccer in college since I went to UAA up in Anchorage. That made me so proud to watch her take her soccer to that level. All that lost sleep was totally worth it.”
It will be hard for Newell to disconnect from the Alaska soccer scene. He has been playing and coaching in Alaska since the '70s. He has played in two State Cup Finals with East Anchorage High and has won the Juneau Men's League five times. He has been on the board of directors for the Capital City Soccer League (a name he originated). He has been on the state association board for Alaska Youth Soccer.
“I have been playing since I was six years old,” he said. “It's time to move on to a warmer climate though. Shoveling snow is not as much fun as it use to be. Oh yeah, I have done a little scouting around down in Nevada, apparently they are looking for soccer coaches as well. I might have to look into that.”
The Lady Falcons travel to Ketchikan this weekend. They have not selected a varsity or junior varsity team and will take all 26 of their players.
Lady Falcons Roster
Seniors: Samantha Dilley (Keeper); Macey Fuette (CenterBack, Team Captain); Isabella Hanna (Midfield); Isabelle Hansen (Defense); Sarah Heaton (MF); Elizabeth Knapp (Center Mid, Team Captain); Ann Steinman (D); Kaylani Tupou (Forward).
Juniors: Jade Blackwell (MF); Abigail Booton (MF); Molly Brocious (MF); Kiah Dihle (MF); Ruchi Haight (MF); Jamie Heidersdorf (MF); Grace Hudson (MF); Naomi Olver (D); Julia Robinson (D, MF).
Sophomores: Valery Blackwell (G, Forward); Mercedes Cordero (MF); Kylie Morris (D); Mackenzie Olver (D, MF, F); Kaelin Tibbles (D).
Freshmen: Adella Dihle (CM); Tatum Gende (MF); Kaidree Hartman (F); Zoey Moore (G, F).
Assisting Newell are coaches Jorge Cordero, Cindy Erickson and Meghan Kennedy-Brown.