Colony boys soccer sets out on title defense with 'new season, new team' mindset

Apr. 3—In the 2023 Division I state championship game, it took double overtime for the Colony High boys soccer team to snap a nearly decade-long title drought with a 2-1 win over South Anchorage.

While being the reigning state champions can come with a sense of pressure for some teams and entitlement for others, during their preparation for the season, the Knights adopted a "new season, new team" mantra and don't feel weighed down by any outside expectations.

"Last year was last year, and this is a whole new year and a whole new team," longtime Knights head coach Jeremy Johnson said. "We're just taking it one game, one practice, one match at a time."

[Knights use golden goal to cap off a dominant weekend for Colony athletics]

As the defending champions, there's a target on their collective backs, but it won't impact their approach to a matchup every time they step on the pitch.

"We try to play everybody hard," Johnson said. "Being from the (Mat-Su), we always have that (rivalry) against Anchorage schools, so we feel like whenever we play any Anchorage school, we get up for it."

Even though the Knights graduated four starting seniors from last year's state title-winning team, they are still returning a fair number of players who had key roles or were starters.

"It's early and the season is short, but you play a lot of matches, so depending on how the team comes together, injuries and how (other teams do), we'll see," Johnson said. "We feel like we have a good team but I'm not making any predictions at this point in time."

One of the players who was vital to the team's title run last year and graduated last spring was 2023 Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year David Elliott. Replacing him and his state-leading 21 goals will be a group effort, as it was at the state tournament when teams were keying in on him.

"We ended up counting on a lot of other guys and they found goals for us," Johnson said. "We're hoping to do that again this year and score goals by committee versus goals just by one guy."

A trio of players he anticipates taking on more prominent roles when it comes to scoring include senior Quinn Dowd, junior Jonathon Figgins and junior Isaac Villa.

Johnson, who expects South to be a formidable contender once again, also commended Service and West for always fielding competitive teams and praised the quality of Fairbanks schools West Valley, North Pole and Lathrop.

Sizing up the top competition

South is also returning a lot of players, and Wolverines head coach Brian Lux believes his roster is "even stronger than last year from top to bottom."

"We're still trying to work some pieces in, and obviously we need to get more time on the turf because training in the gym is tough, but we've got a lot of returning guys and we could be poised to make a good run if we keep putting our stuff together," he said.

Coming up short in the state finals last year has a lot of players on this year's team feeling like they have unfinished business, especially the seniors.

"It's been talked about a lot, but now it's about taking it one game at a time," Lux said. "We're not going to lose the entire season in a day, and we're not going to win the championship in a day."

He also feels like there will be a lot of good teams in addition to South and Colony.

"Service played us very close (in the season opener), Dimond and West tied last week, and I think it's a lot more up in the air," Lux said. "Hopefully at the end, we're on top."

West fell behind in the first minute of its season opener with Dimond, but the Eagles battled back and nearly had a chance to complete a comeback in the final minute of the game. Head coach Kaleb Kuehn was proud of their effort to force a 2-2 stalemate in the end.

"We lost the first half 2-1 and in the second half, came out with high energy for the first 10-15 minutes and the boys worked hard," he said. "We rebounded, got the goal to tie it up and kept pressing, and unfortunately couldn't find another one."

Kuehn also believes the Division I boys soccer landscape is wide open this year.

"There are a handful of schools, but it's really going to come down to that work rate, staying healthy and being fit," he said. "In the playoffs, anything can happen."

The Eagles have a lot of continuity from last year's state semifinalist team, which came up short of returning to the finals after making it in 2022.

"It motivates anybody when you don't get to be that team that's in the finals when you were that close," Kuehn said.