Positivity propels Crimson Bears in state tourney

JDHS to play Soldotna in first round at West Anchorage High School

The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team poses with the Region V 4A Championship trophy in Ketchikan, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. Top row (L to R): Jojo Griggs, Addie Prussing, Cassie Dzinich, Leah Spargo, Jessica Pierce, Shaylin Cesar. Bottom row: (L to R): Kiana Potter, Abby Meiners, Skylar Hickok, Riley Stadt. (Photo courtesy of Windy Spargo)

A win in the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska 4A State Volleyball Championships is harder than one might think.


Just ask the senior class of Juneau-Douglas High School, who is still looking for one at the tournament. When asked how it would feel to go farther into the tournament than the team has in recent history (2016, T-7th; 2014, T-7th), senior Cassie Dzinich’s face lights up.

“It’d be so exciting, I’d be so happy,” Dzinich said. “I think we all really want that so hopefully we can do it. I think we can.”

JDHS (11-5, 6-2 SEC) faces Northern Lights Conference runner-up Soldotna (12-7, 6-4 NLC) Thursday at 11:45 a.m. It’s one of six tournament games scheduled for Thursday at West Anchorage High School.

A win, and JDHS advances to a 5:15 p.m. match with either Bartlett or Wasilla. A loss and JDHS waits until Friday to play again.

JDHS and Soldotna have not faced each other this season. They have, however, played in the Spiketacular and Dimond-Service Tournament together, albeit never head-to-head.

“I think we can play with these guys, I think we have a chance,” JDHS coach Dale Bontrager said. “We’re going to have to bring our A Game for sure, it’ll have to be a really good match on our part; that’s why we’re going up there.”

The Bartlett Bears are fresh off their first Cook Inlet Conference Championship since 1983. Meanwhile, South Anchorage — who appeared in the state championship game in nine of the last 12 state tournaments — didn’t qualify for the tournament at all.

Needless to say, JDHS — with its 31 Region V titles — sport a proud volleyball tradition. Between 1999-2006, the Crimson Bears finished no lower than fifth place at the state tournament. In 2002, JDHS won it all, ousting Bartlett thanks in part to the efforts of all-state players Amy Neussl, Callan Janwiec and Kelly Baxter.

Dzinich, Abby Meiners and Shaylin Cesar could be in the running for the same honor this year. At the Region V Championships last weekend in Ketchikan, the three were joined by Thunder Mountain High School’s Maxie Saceda-Hurt, Mary Landes and Marissa Tanuvasa on the all-conference team.

Dzinich and Meiners recorded 15 kills respectively in the tournament finale. But the defensive player of the championship game — and tournament — was junior Shaylin Cesar. The 5-foot-6 setter defied gravity on more than one occasion while chasing after a loose ball, ending up with a team-high 25 digs in the championship.

“If we can bring what we did at the Region V tournament to state, I think we’ll do good,” Cesar said.

Bontrager says they plan to use the same recipe for success at the Region V Tournament going into this weekend, “It was all about being positive with themselves, positive self-talk, positive mental imagery, having the confidence to know that they can play at whatever level they need to play at.”

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nolin.ainsworth@juneauempire.com.


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