The “net-setter” society of volleyball fans in Juneau and from around Southeast will be treated to the highlight of the season starting Thursday at Juneau-Douglas High School as the Crimson Bears host the 3A/4A Region V Championships.
This is the first time Juneau has seen the region championships since the early 1980s according to JDHS athletic director and coach Sandi Wagner.
“It is really exciting because we haven’t hosted the tournament in over 30 years,” Wagner said. “The fact that we get the regional tournament, and nobody has seen this regional tournament, in over 30 years in this community is exciting and we have two local teams that are playing.”
The Crimson Bears (8-0 in conference play) haven’t lost a region volleyball championship in 17 years, and have won 22 of the last 24. Sitka won two in a row from 1993. Prior to that JDHS won seven of the nine titles, with Sitka again getting two straight from 1986.
“Once you get into regions there are always going to be some close matches and always going to be some that aren’t so close,” Wagner said.
The Crimson Bears are an athletic and disciplined team to contend with. They can score from multiple positions and defend from sideline to sideline. Senior Taylor Vidic is a certified “roofer,” meaning she blocks a lot of shots at the net. Classmate Krista Bontrager powers shots from beyond normal outside hitter range and Jean Cumlat and Solana Ashe are good enough to dig up anything above or below the surface. Throw in athletic juniors Rachel Doogan, Chelsea Peterson, Carly Gunnersen, and sophomore Gracie Meiners and stir in seniors Nicole George and Sierra Tagaban and the pot is boiling over with quality recipes for success.
Thunder Mountain (3-8) is the new kid playing on the block. Their three wins have been against conference rival Ketchikan (1-7). The Falcons and the Kings square off in the opening 4A match on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“We are still battling the mental game,” TMHS head coach Adriana Northcutt said. “If the girls can get a strong hold on the metal game then the skills that they have will begin to work for them. This week at practice we will work on intensity and staying focused. That is what we are lacking right now.”
The Falcons are not to be overlooked. Last Thursday’s opening game win over JDHS on the tournament floor is proof that the Falcons can do enough damage to win the title and represent southeast at the state tournament.
Lone senior Jeslie Villaverde, juniors Michelle Manning, Kendra Wittwer, Jonelle Staveland, and sophomore’s Jenna Luhrs and Makayla Pierce fall into the 5-foot-7 and up category of jumping sluggers that can make life uncomfortable for net defenders.
Ketchikan is a mix of old and young. Fresh off a trip to sunny San Diego where they ran up a win streak the Kings will not be unnerved in the spotlight at JDHS. Led by 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter Chandler Grace and setter Brianna McLaughlin and junior Faith Clark the Kings will compete. Other seniors include Mary Keele and Shermeli Malabanan.
If the Falcons stop the Kings they will get a shot at JDHS on Friday at 3 p.m. Both the 3A and 4A brackets are double elimination formats, meaning that a team has to lose twice to be out of the tournament.
On the 3A side of the net, traditional powers Mt. Edgecumbe (11-1) and Petersburg (9-3) are seeded first and second. The Lady Braves have won the last four region championships and five of the last six. Last year they showed the resolved to come back through the loser’s bracket and defeat Craig in the final. Craig had put them in the losers bracket early in the tourney.
The Vikings have longtime coach Bev Siercks and a formidable front line with 6-foot-2 senior shot blocker Carolyn Kvernvik at middle hitter and 5-foot-11 junior Kayley Thorsen next to her. The Vikings are junior heavy with only three seniors on the roster, including outside hitter Emily Luczak. The supporting cast is a mixture of athleticism (5-foot-4 bookends Emma Engell and Jael Swanson) and size (5-foot-8 Sam Marifern, Lauren Bryner and Alayna Fitts).
Craig (8-4) is back in the mix again. Seeded third, the Panthers could play havoc if the Lady Braves and Vikings aren’t up to their games in the semifinals. The Panthers boast seniors Kara Barlow, Melissa Castle and Shannon Yates and while no Panther is taller than 5-foot-10, none are smaller than 5-foot-6; meaning they will be athletic and quick across the net.
Haines (7-5) is seeded fourth, Sitka (5-7) fifth, Wrangell (2-10) sixth and Metlakatla (0-12) seventh.
In a double-elimination format, any team can be dangerous and the Glacier Bears and Wolves probably have the shot at playing spoiler as well.
Haines boasts six seniors and have that experience to fall back on. Twins Ashley and Amey Messerschmidt, Elizabeth Busk-Stevens, Anna Jacobson, Brook Cinocco and Teo Lynch have been to the region dance before and won’t be shy about asking someone to step onto the court for another spin.
The Wolves’ fifth-place seed is deceiving. Sitka is athletic throughout the lineup and features seniors Emily Pratt, JettaFay Workman, Jaycie Saunders, Sherri Helgoe and Ali Wilson; yet some of their best power comes from a junior class that includes Lindsey Riggs, Susie Stedman and Stefania Potrzuski and lone sophomore outside hitter Melissa Dumag.
Metlakatla and Wrangell are on down years but the Chiefs have seniors Jennifer Caspersen and Lia Job and the Wolves lone graduate to be is Loni Buness. Both teams will be fun to watch as they have some athletic talent waiting to break out in the tournament setting.
For fans, the opportunity to see the wide variety of matches will remind many of the late 70s volleyball action when all levels of schools competed in one tourney. Hoonah actually won two Region V titles in ’77 and ’78, followed by Sitka in ’79, JDHS in ’80, Sitka two more and Ketchikan in ’83. A large school/small school break began with JD winning titles in ’84 and ’85 and Sitka getting ’86 and ’87. Sitka moved into the 3A ranks in ’08.
When the original school levels were split, the 1A/2A schools hosted their own tournament together as did the 3A/4A. Do to the smaller size of the event it was decided that the 3A schools would host the tourney as the larger schools hosted the basketball and music festivals. When Sitka moved to 3A the region revamped the tournaments so any school that could accommodate the expected visitor numbers could host.
Name, No., Grade, Height, Position
Jean Cumlat, 1, 12, 4’10”, DS
Solana Ashe, 3, 12, 5’1”, DS
Sierra Tagaban, 4, 12, 5’6”, DS/OH
Taylor Vidic, 4, 12, 5’10”, MH
Gracie Meiners, 7, 10, 5’9”, S/OH
Rachel Doogan, 9, 11, 5’7”, S/OH
Chelsea Peterson, 10, 11, 5’7”, OH
Carly Gunnersen, 11, 11, 5’8”, MH
Nicole George, 13, 12, 5’7”, MH/OH
Krista Bontrager, 14, 12, 5’9”, OH
Kayla Balovich, 16, 10, 5’9”, MH/OH
Coaches: Dale Bontrager, Pat Gorman and Sandi Wagner
Principal: Ryan Alsup
Athletic Director: Sandi Wagner
Mascot: Crimson Bears
Colors: Red and Black
Thunder Mountain roster
Name, No., Grade, Height, Position
Jenna Luhrs , 1, 10, 5’9”, OH
Natalie Montez, 2, 11, 5’6”, S/OH
Jonelle Staveland (C), 12, 11, 5’7”, OH
Makayla Pierce , 4, 10, 5’9”, OH
Darbee Hickok , 5, 11, 5’6”, OH
Katrina Greenlief, 6, 10, 5’6”, DS
Kylie Ibias (C), 7, 11, 5’5”, S/OH
Kendra Wittwer, 8, 11, 5’8”, MH
Michelle Manning, 9, 11, 5’9”, MH
Kristen Hosier , 10, 11, 5’6”, OH
Jeslie Villaverde, 11, 12, 5’8”, OH
Danielle Steinman, 3, 9, 5’7”, S/DS
Coaches: Adriana Northcutt, Arnold Ibias, Julie Thatcher and Amelia Rivera
Principal: Dan Larson
Assistant Principal/Athletic Director: Rhonda Hickok
Colors: Blue and Silver