It’s the beginning of the end this Thurday at 3:30 p.m. for the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team.
The team plays No. 2 Dimond High School (21-1) in the first round of the 2017 March Madness Alaska 4A Girls State Tournament. Dimond’s only loss this season was as hosts of the Dimond Lady Lynx Prep Shootout. In the shootout championship, Chugiak won 55-53. Two days prior, the Mustangs beat JDHS 60-45.
The Crimson Bears nabbed one of only two at-large bids to the state tournament based on their 17 wins this season against 4A schools. East Anchorage, whose season record perfectly mirrors that of JDHS (17-5), was the other school to receive an at-large bid to the tournament.
The Dimond Lady Lynx won the Cook Inlet Conference championship with a 72-51 win over Chugiak.
The Crimson Bears will have two less players on the bench than normal after departures from Shaylin Cesar (soccer) and Kendyl Carson (disciplinary violation).
“We aren’t very deep so losing a player or two has been a significant impact,” JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said. “I think in past years we’ve been 10-strong and fortunately the last few years we were at the state tournament, my second string was as good as my first-string and so that was kind of fun.”
Knight’s Crimson Bears won the state championship in 2010 and placed second in 2011. Knight stepped down for three seasons before returning to coaching for the 2014-15 season. Her third season back with the team, this will be Knight’s first trip to the state tournament since returning to the sidelines.
Likewise, all nine of this year’s Crimson Bears will be playing in their first state tournaments.
Dimond is a favorite to win it all this year with its near spotless record and Alaska and Gatorade Girls Player of the Year Alissa Pili, who averages 25 points a game.
“There’s three key players we’ll be focused on: [Jahnna] Hajdukovich, Alissa Pili, and that Carle girl [Maya Carle]. Those three, if we can get those three on the bench, then I think we can play with them,” Knight said.
One thing is certain — JDHS will have to score more than the 24 points Ketchikan held them to in the Region V championship if they want to win. The Dimond Lady Lynx have exceeded 80 points in a game seven times this season.
“I try to convince these guys it could be one of the greatest upsets of all-time,” Knight said. “There’s no pressure. Everyone expects us to get blown out.”
Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.