There were no first game jitters on the Juneau-Douglas volleyball trip to Anchorage’s Dimond/Service High School tournament over the weekend.
The Crimson Bears played a pre-tournament game against East Anchorage Thursday night and stopped the high-powered Thunderbirds 25-20, 22-25, 22-25, 25-13 and 15-13.
The Crimson Bears then battled through two days of tournament play for a seventh place finish out of 20 teams.
“It was a good weekend,” JDHS head coach Sandi Wagner said. “It was a rollercoaster ride. We played well at times and not so well at times. That’s OK, the kids got some valuable experience.”
Senior’s Taylor Vidic, Solana Ashe and Sierra Tagaban echoed that sentiment.
“As a team, because this is the first year we have all played together at this level, we are trying to figure out what works for us and what doesn’t,” Vidic said. “Our biggest deterrent for winning is our own energy level. In most our games we split, playing poorly in one and then coming back and playing well. It takes us a while to warm up but once we are in our game we are fine. That is the one thing you can’t practice. It takes each team member putting what they can into it, because volleyball is such a mental game.”
Vidic said little things like looks given to teammates and not getting excited because of how someone is playing is key.
Ashe stated the team is physically ready and working hard on the mental aspect.
“It is difficult to adjust to the competition level here,” Ashe said. “But we have each other’s backs. If someone makes a mistake or shanks a hit we encourage them. Because we do usually shank a shot and then get a perfect pass.”
Tagaban stated the experience was intimidating but not daunting.
“We did a lot better in our second games each match,” Tagaban said. “We are good at coming back but that is not always good enough. We always take notes on our specific positions when watching other teams play and what they do.”
The East High Thunderbirds ran multiple changes at the Crimson Bears, forcing them to adjust to various styles of play on the fly.
“There was a lot of excitement and a little bit of exasperation,” JDHS assistant coach Dale Bontrager said. “But that was what we came up here for and the kids got it done. They learned a lot from that.”
East ran a similar offense to JDHS, using a quick middle attack but scoring points from the outside hitters. The Crimson Bears relied on their middle blockers to double up with their outside blockers to counter the attacks.
“We have been working a lot on reading our opponents hitters,” Bontrager said. “I think we made some strides in that direction.”
The Crimson Bears’ serving corps was nearly invincible and needed to be against a good passing team like East. Sophomore Gracie Meiners hit an astonishing 26 times with 10 service aces and just one service error.
“Gracie just served them off the board,” assistant coach Pat Gorman said. “She has a serve that is tough, is always tough, but is inconsistent sometimes. I think she missed just one this match. East did not like her serves at all.”
Senior Jean Cumlat smacked 25 serves with two aces; junior Rachel Doogan hit 14 with three aces; and seniors Krista Bontrager and Solana Ashe, and jump-serving junior Chelsea Peterson each went to the end line for over 12 solid attempts.
Some of JDHS girls used their softball experience on the service line by mixing up the deliveries like they would on the mound when pitching.
“They would hit hard, hard, and then change up short,” Gorman said. “We try to move the defense around, find the least strong passer or the new sub. We leave it up to the kids, we don’t call the serves.”
The Crimson Bears rate their defensive passers on a 0-3 scale and Peterson was nearly perfect with an average of 2.7 against a tough topspin serving and float-serving East team. Bontrager, Doogan, junior Carly Gunnersen, Cumlat and senior Taylor Vidic were all in the 2.0 range, meaning JD had a tough floor defense.
Peterson and Cumlat led with 17 digs each, Bontrager and Doogan had 15 apiece, Meiners 12, Ashe eight, senior Sierra Tagaban five, Gunnersen three and senior Nicole George one.
The JDHS hitting squad was led by Bontrager’s 51 attacks with 19 kills, Gunnersen’s 31 with 16, Peterson’s 29 with 10, Meiners’ 18 with five, and Vidic’s 15 with six.
Bontrager, an outside hitter, has added to her arsenal by attacking from the back row as well.
To register a block the Crimson Bears have to put the ball down on the floor. Both teams were defensively sound enough to block a shot down and have the opponent dig it back up. JDHS does not keep a stat for the number of altered shots they force on an opponent or the disruption they cause across the net.
“That’s their job,” Gorman commented. “That is what they are out there for. The first line of defense is putting the block up and even if we don’t get hands on it sometimes, we funnel the hit towards our defense. So they are doing their job even if they are not touching the ball. We like it when they block one to the floor, but it gets in the hitters heads knowing the hands up there.”
JDHS began tournament play with four games Friday. In their pool of play the Crimson Bears split with Wasilla 18-25, 25-20; split with Service 23-25, 25-18; split with Bartlett 20-25, 25-13 and swept Nikiski 25-13, 25-21 to advance to the Gold Bracket.
In each of the splits the Crimson Bears rebounded from a loss, an important psychological win as region and state tournaments loom in the coming weeks.
Peterson led in the games with 12 service aces. Six Crimson Bears hit 90 percent or better from the service line.
Bontrager registered 32 digs, Peterson 29, Meiners 18, Doogan 12, Tagaban and Cumlat 10 apiece.
Bontrager also led with 25 kills, Peterson 21, Gunnersen 16, Vidic 15, Meiners eight, Nicole George two and Doogan one.
In gold bracket play JDHS beat Lathrop 25-16,25-21 to advance and next faced the Dimond Lynx, one of the best teams in the state.
Dimond handled the Crimson Bears like the well-oiled machine they are, according to JDHS coaches, winning 25-10, 25-19.
“It is a higher level of play up here than in southeast,” Vidic said. “We are starting to find things before the games, like cracking stupid jokes, to get the excitement level down. Our coaches have prepared us for regions by taking us to tournaments like this one and Seattle. We’ll see how regions go. Once we figure how to keep our morale up, we will take a large step in our skill level.”
The Crimson Bears than played Service down to the wire before falling 25-15, 19-25 and 15-13.
“We got some invaluable experience,” Wagner said. “And that’s what was needed. We need to work a little more on our movement and our confidence, which is probably what we are lacking the most of right now. And in the last game we were a little tentative.”