Season in review: Juneau-Douglas boys and girls basketball

Boys basketball


The Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team proved once again they play their best basketball when it counts.

The team won the Capital City Classic in December but proceeded to lose out on their two tournaments: the Alaska Prep Shootout and Whaler Invitational. In the end, it didn’t matter.

The Crimson Bears won the tournament the seniors all desperately wanted: the Region V Championship. Senior Erik Kelly and Kolby Hoover played fantastic that week in Ketchikan. Actually, the entire senior class had an outstanding final go-around at regions.

Kelly (see: Alaska 4A boys player of the year) made a shot for the ages to send JDHS past Thunder Mountain High School in their second game of the week. In the following two games, Hoover sliced up Ketchikan High School’s defense with his tenacious drives to the cup.

It was the third consecutive Region V title and trip to the state tournament for Robert Casperson’s squad.

The Crimson Bears went on to finish sixth at state, picking up an early-morning win over West Valley High School in between losses to Dimond and Colony.

Q&A with Coach Casperson

What were the biggest challenges the team faced this season?

The greatest challenges we faced were off the court with severe life experiences. The guys did a great job supporting each other through some very difficult, emotional experiences. They showed each other compassion and empathy through it all. I believe that our shared journey through these tough times this year brought us closer together as a team.

What’s the most memorable moment from this season?

It is hard to narrow it down, but if I had to choose one, I’d say the moment that rises to the top as “most memorable” was standing back and watching the team celebrate after a hard-fought, well-played Region V Championship game.

I was very impressed that against all odds, we rose to the top to claim our third straight Region V Championship. No one really gave us a chance after we entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed (of three teams) and lost the first game to Ketchikan. This team showed their resolve though and while facing elimination in the next game, bounced back to take down the No. 1 seed (TMHS). Having to beat Ketchikan twice at home is no easy feat, especially with a region championship and a trip to state on the line. But again, this team played together to come out victorious. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy that experience with the team.

What can people expect next year out of the team?

People can expect us to be a lot shorter than we have been since I took over the varsity seven years ago. As it stands right now, we are graduating six seniors and we won’t have a single returning varsity player over 6 feet. We’ll figure it out though. One thing I know is that if we aren’t going to be tall, we had better be fast. So along with a lot of new faces out there, people can also expect to see a team on the floor that will play extremely hard.

Coach’s comments on seniors

Erik Kelly — If a coach were to be able to create an “undersized” center in the lab, Erik Kelly is what they would hope to achieve. His natural place on the court would be at the strong forward position, but he has been filling a need within his team by playing the post position the past three seasons. Erik leads us most statistical categories on the team this season, which is impressive for sure, but it is his generosity and leadership off the court that stands out the most to me. He is always ready and willing to lend a helping hand to a teammate or classmate.

Kolby Hoover — Kolby’s journey with the varsity program has had a number of successes, but it was nearly derailed along the way. Over time he has displayed a tremendous amount of grit and determination, supported by an incredible work ethic, to ascend into his role on the team in his senior season. Kolby’s commitment to the Crimson Bears and his teammates led to his selection as the speaking captain this year. While he is often willing to provide vocal leadership when we need it, what his teammates most often see from Kolby is leadership by example.

Kasey Watts — While we wish that Kasey spent all four years in the basketball program, we have been very pleased to work with him the past two season. Kasey does a great job bringing a unique mix of passion, determination, toughness and comedic presence to our team. He is usually the first to dive on the floor after a loose ball and always the first to offer a witty retort during team functions. Kasey is a “people person” and he has done a tremendous job sharing his love and passion for life and competition with his teammates.

Luke Mallinger — Luke has made a lot of progress during his four years in our program. He is dedicated to his teammates and has become an invaluable member of our team. He has worked extremely hard to become not only a reliable contributor, but he was also selected by his teammates as a captain. I am very proud of how much progress he has made over the years and I know that his work ethic will carry him far in life.

Christian Yadao — Christian may be one of the nicest players I have ever worked with. Coaches will often speak about how we want kids to get good grades, attend every opportunity to get better, and display outstanding citizenship. Well, Christian is exactly that kind of player. He’s someone that we know we can count on. His teammates love him. He’s been a pleasure to work with and I’m very proud of him.

Gammy Reyes — Gammy is new to the varsity this season but he has brought an energy and spirit that we greatly appreciate. He is one of the hardest workers on the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. His effort and energy are contagious and his teammates feed off of it. Gammy is also very willing to share his smile, which keeps things light during practice and games.

Josh Elston — Josh was new to the program this year and we were happy to have him. He filled a vital role making sure that all the home JV and C-Team games were livestreamed. Josh tackled any task we gave him and he was always willing to help out with anything we asked him to do.

Caitlynn Rich — Caitlynn has spent four years in our program as a manager. During that time, she has learned a lot about how to run a basketball program. She is usually two steps ahead of me and I’m pretty sure that she could do everything we need, which is very reassuring. She also possesses the ability to anticipate our needs and has become one of the best “mind-readers,” which is a must for successful programs, that I’ve ever had.

Girls basketball

Great players elevate the play of those around them. That’s precisely what senior Cassie Dzinich did all season — but especially the postseason — with a young and short-benched Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team.

After sitting out the final regular season game and watching her Crimson Bears fall to Thunder Mountain High School, Dzinich helped the team get back on track at the Region V Championships.

Had she not made her heroic return days later with a torn ACL, it’s likely the team would’ve lost to TMHS again. Instead, they won their fourth and fifth games of the season against the Lady Falcons and gave Ketchikan a good test in the championship game.

In some ways, Dzinich was the embodiment of the team as a whole. Playing fast and without many subs on the bench meant everyone from the freshmen to the seniors would endure a certain level of pain.

The team didn’t have the gas to keep up with teams in the first half of the season. They lost six games in December and six in January. Things finally turned around in February when the team won six of their final seven games.

Look for the Crimson Bears to be back at the state tournament next year.

Q&A with Coach Knight

What were the biggest challenges the team faced this season?

Lack of depth on our bench. We had a few varsity-level players, a lot of C level, but did not have a true varsity bench/JV-level group.

What’s the most memorable moment from this season?

For me, I love when we travel for tournaments, like Las Vegas and Barrow. We have a chance to watch a lot of basketball and talk situations. We had a chance to watch Mississippi State at UNLV (University of Las Vegas) and as a team and we talked about how the 6’7” girl had no left hand. In the NCAA national championship game, we were able to watch that player again.

The girls would say it’s always memorable when you beat Ketchikan.

What can people expect next year out of the team? Improvement. Kids are already in the gym preparing for next year. Not qualifying for the state tournament has motivated them to up their off-season work. They have become students of the game, watching a lot of basketball.

Coach’s comments on seniors

Cassie Dzinich — Cassie had an incredible year and a sad ending. She would have finished at the top of her game if she did not end her season with a torn ACL. Cassie is a model student-athlete, she is a great role model for younger players. What I admire most about Cassie is her work ethic; for four years, Cassie has showed up to all of her sports and given a 100 percent every day in practice. As a player, she led her team in scoring with her ability to take it inside against bigger opponents. She went left better than she went right and outhustled everyone up and down the court.

Morgan Balovich — Morgan grew and matured as a player and a person. She has an incredibly big heart and really looks out for the underdogs. We’ve had some rocky times, but it’s awesome she has worked hard and made the commitment for four years. Someday, Morgan will be in charge of a lot of employees and probably coaching at some level. Her role on the court was similar to Charles Barkley, a bit of a bruiser. She had the ability to mix it up inside with the taller players and come up with important rebounds and steals.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or

Boys roster

John Hamrick

Gammy Reyes

Luke Mallinger

Christian Yadao

Kolby Hoover

Brock McCormick

Austin McCurley

Kasey Watts

Israel Yadao

Cooper Kriegmont

LJ Elizarde

Erik Kelly

Philip Gonzales

Krishant Samtani

Head coach:

Robert Casperson

Asst. coaches:

John Sleppy

Ben Kriegmont

Record: 14-16 (3-5 Southeast)

Girls roster

Sadie Tuckwood

Kiana Potter

Leah Neyhart

Alyxn Bohulano

Jenae Pusich

Cassie Dzinich

Caitlin Pusich

Morgan Balovich

Chloe McAdams

Head coach:

Lesslie Knight

Asst. coach:

Steve Potter

Record: 13-18 (5-3 Southeast)


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