There is nothing like starting the state volleyball championships off with a bang, but then, you have to beat the best to be the best.
Juneau-Douglas High School will face defending state champion Dimond on Thursday at 3:45 p.m. in their opening match at the ASAA/First National Bank of Alaska 2011 3A/4A Volleyball State Championships at Wasilla’s Curtis Menard Sports Complex.
Dimond is tall and experienced and beat Juneau in two games, 25-10 and 25-19, at the Service-Dimond Invitational Tournament on Oct. 22.
“It will be the same caliber of competition we saw at Service-Dimond,” senior outside hitter Krista Bontrager said. “Our team has all seen Dimond play before and I think we are ready for it. I think we look forward to games like that.”
Bontrager is the only player on this year’s Crimson Bears’ roster with state volleyball experience.
“It is different,” Bontrager said of state. “They are the same teams but they play much harder and faster. Last year we played Chugiak at the Service-Dimond tournament and when we played them again at state they were much faster and at a higher level than we thought.”
Chugiak lost to Dimond for the title last year. Dimond has won the title the past three years. The Lynx are the Cook Inlet Conference No. 2 seed, losing to South (CIC No. 1) in their regional championship.
The Lynx have state tournament experience. As a matter of fact, seven of this year’s state competitors were in the tournament last year.
JDHS, the lone Southeast Conference representative, lost last year’s opening tourney game to Chugiak (CIC NO. 3 this year), and then beat Palmer (Northern Lights Conference No. 1 this year) and Wasilla (NLC No. 3) to finish fourth.
Also on JDHS’ side of the bracket is West Valley (Mid-Alaska Conference No. 1) and Kodiak (NLC No. 2). The Wolfpack lost to South in the state semifinals last season and finished third, while Kodiak is the newbie to the state group. West Valley won its region for the third straight year and, like JDHS, is the lone selection from that conference.
“I think when we get there we will see the new side of teams,” Bontrager said. “A lot of teams from up North have more support, because the fans are closer to the venue. It is very different. We plan on playing as hard as we can against Dimond down to the finish. I think we can handle them now.”
Dimond is big and athletic. They have a large front blocking line and hit the ball very hard. This means that the JDHS defense will be tested often.
“I think part of it is just about believing in ourselves and getting into the right mentality of you may shank one ball but the next one is yours,” senior defensive specialist Solana Ashe said. “We have seen their power before. It was shocking in the beginning but we just have to adjust to things like that.”
Ashe, and classmates Jean Cumlat and Sierra Tagaban will be expected to pick up a lot of digs and saves in the back and center of the court.
“During practice we work on getting into position on defense and against our coaches hitting against us,” defensive specialist Jean Cumlat said. “It is a big hitters mentality so when we go up North we will hopefully transfer what we learned in practice into the game. They were definitely intimidating at first because we hadn’t seen that big of play down here. It was overwhelming at first but then we got into it. They just ended up on the top of the score. I have a lot of faith in this team, we work well together.”
Blocking along the net will be a compilation of ricochets and stuffs, which also makes the second row of defense invaluable, as shots will be careening wildly.
“I think we will do well,” junior middle hitter Carly Gunnersen said. “We are definitely the underdogs but we can do really well if we just work hard and believe. You just have to have confidence when you go up to the net. I don’t think they are as tough as most think. They are very experienced as a team but we are excited to get up there too.”
The Lynx feature a pair of 5-foot-9 outside hitters in senior Kristi Lauwers and junior Sierra Afoa and senior 5-foot-3 setter Alyssa Jones.
They have height in 5-foot-10 hitters Leah Swiss and Taylor Aronwits, 5-foot-11 middles Rohyn Huss, Cierra Carrigan, Bobbye Pendleton and Breanna Moore and 6-foot Abbey Pacolt.
“You just have to hit smart,” sophomore outside hitter Gracie Meiners said. “You have to see where they put up the block and where their defense is. We didn’t have that much success the first time we played them but I think that was because we psyched ourselves out. I think that we can go pretty far. We are excited and hoping for the best. I think that we all have to work together.”
On the 3A side of the net, Mt. Edgecumbe opens against Eielson with Dillingham playing Seward in their bracket; and Petersburg plays Valdez, with defending state champion Grace Christian playing Barrow in the bracket.