In Juanita High School’s last season at the 4A level, the soccer team has more on its mind than just the typical league, districts and state championship goals: It’s shooting to solidify its legacy as a top team in the classification.
“We really want to go out on top,” said first-year Juanita coach Kevin Lamb. “We can set the precedent on how Juanita is remembered on the 4A level.”
Juanita will move down the 3A next season as a result of KingCo realignment, but the Rebels don’t want to be thought of as a team that couldn’t cut it at the higher level. They want to make their new 3A opponents nervous next season.
“We want them to say, ‘Wow, they were the best 4A team and now they’re 3A? That’s not really fair,’” Lamb said.
The Rebels (9-5 overall, 7-2 league) sit atop the KingCo 4A Mountain Division three points ahead of Redmond (10-2-1, 6-2). A win is worth three points in the standings and a tie is worth one. Redmond has two games left and Juanita one, but if the teams tie in the standings Juanita holds the tiebreaker by virtue of a 1-0 win at Redmond on April 9.
“Even after the loss on Tuesday (4-2 at Bothell), we still hold all of the cards in our hand,” Lamb said.
First in the Mountain Division is important because the champion plays against the top team from the Lake Division (currently Eastlake) for an immediate berth into the state playoffs. Other playoff teams have to play and win three additional playoff games to get to the state playoffs.
At a time when the season is feeling long and energy is at a premium, saving games is vital.
“At this point, the season’s really starting to wear on teams,” Lamb said. “Legs are getting tired, school’s getting harder. The view of the season changes really fast. Half way through you look back and wonder how the time went by so quickly — two weeks later and it’s really dragging on.”
While Lamb is confident about Juanita’s chances to make the championship game, he is concerned about the Rebels’ reliance on young players.
“I think we’re the best team; we’re the most talented,” Lamb said. “It’s just a question of how the sophomores will hold up under pressure.”
Juanita starts five sophomores and has just four seniors on the roster, so maturity will be the biggest hindrance to a deep postseason run. Lamb said it is hard to tell how the younger players will react late in the season — sometimes they mentally burn out, other times they get even stronger.
In a talented and unpredictable league — Inglemoor (2-5-1) beat Eastlake (6-2) on April 22 — starting a core of young players makes the late-season games even more volatile.
The Rebels, however, are getting the most out of the few seniors they have. Juanita boasts one of the league’s best players in senior Tyler Bjork, who leads the team in goals (13) and assists (10). Only Roosevelt’s Chad Kearns has as many goals, but netted three goals against a weak Franklin side that forfeited much of the season before Juanita played them. Kearns also has only one assist compared to Bjork’s 10.
“He’s definitely my pick for MVP this year,” Lamb said. “He changes a game all by himself. As soon as he steps on the field a guy goes and marks him the whole game, and if it’s not one, it’s two or three.”
Senior Genaro Jimenez has also chipped in, scoring six goals and adding four assists. Lamb said Jimenez scored the “most spectacular” goal he’s seen at the high-school level against Bothell.
“He’s always in the right place at the right time,” Lamb said. “He has one of the best left foots I’ve seen as far as crossing the ball in.”
Senior Cameron Johnson has played the role of “backbone” for the Rebels. Lamb said Johnson will be one of his most difficult players to replace because he can play everywhere.
Representative of Juanita’s youth is sophomore star Garrett Lee. Lee gave up playing for Crossfire Premier Soccer club so he could be a part of Juanita’s team. He’s played center midfielder every minute of this season, and Lamb said Lee is the team’s best all-around player.
If Juanita goes to the championship game against Eastlake, the Rebels figure to be slight favorites despite Eastlake’s 1-0 win in the first matchup between the teams on March 18. Juanita outshot Eastlake 24-3 in the game and the Wolves scored with three minutes left on a free kick.
“Our main defender went down with an injury and we didn’t get set up right on defense,” Lamb said. “It was kind of a fluke loss.”
The Rebels played their final regular season on Monday against Roosevelt (7-6, 4-5).
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