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Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball coach Lesslie Knight has a pleasant dilemma on her hands this season.
The Crimson Bears feature a quartet of players whose similar talents have left them in spirited competition for a limited number of starting spots and game minutes.
Juniors Lexi Garvey, Jordan Harvey, Kerstin Kimlinger and Sophia Smith are pushing themselves - and each other - to get playing time alongside senior Mary Rehfeld, sophomore Talisa Rhea and the Crimson Bear post players. It's a tough call to make - but Juneau coaches know that it's hard to go wrong.
"They all bring something different to the table," Knight said of the four juniors. "The one thing they share - and it reminds me of our senior class last year - is they all play really, really hard.
"Lexi has the diversity of the 3-pointer, Kerstin is a serious offensive rebounder, Smith and Harvey can make drives to the basket. They're all jockeying for playing time and starting positions. It's a fun competition."
The competition turns from intrateam to interteam this weekend as the Crimson Bears (2-1 overall) host the Bartlett Golden Bears (0-2 overall) for a pair of non-conference games. The battles of the Bears will be held at 6 p.m. tonight and at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the JDHS main gym. Saturday's early game time is to accommodate Bartlett's travel plans.
While they may not share the court all at once this weekend, the four Juneau juniors will make an impact over time. The four players share a lot of similarities - they all stand 5-foot-7 or 5-8, and they all have demonstrated defensive tenacity and a willingness to go all-out on the court.
Where there are differences, there is competition.
"Lexi is so fast, so when I run I'm always trying to catch up to her," Kimlinger said. "Jordan is really aggressive and Sophia is good on defense. Whatever we do, there's always someone pushing you."
"We all want to start, and we all want to contribute to the team," Smith said. "I love it. It makes us work harder, and the harder we work the better we get."
Practices can be intense - "you need to be pumped up for practice if you want to start," Garvey said - but the competition has remained positive.
"It's great to have other people to compete with in practice," Harvey said. "It's healthy - and helpful."
Knight said she's pleased with the juniors' contributions so far this season.
"Competition can't help but improve everybody - whether you're competing individually or as a team, it makes you better," she said.
The Crimson Bears are coming off a second-place performance at last week's season-opening Capital City Classic, where they beat a pair of Washington state teams after a narrow loss to in-state rival Chugiak.
Juneau beat Bartlett 61-37 last February, and the Golden Bears suffered heavy losses to graduation. Bartlett coach Karine Wheeler, in her 10th season guiding Bartlett, said Ashley Foe, a 5-foot sophomore guard, has been the team's top scorer this season.
"We're small, but we're quick," Wheeler said. "We lost all our varsity experience (after last season), so we're a whole new team."
Wheeler said forwards Rachele Campbell, a 5-9 junior, and Lauren Lewis, a 5-7 senior, have been strong on the boards for the Golden Bears.
Bartlett lost its first two games of the season - to Wasilla and Chugiak - by wide margins, but Wheeler said her players are looking forward to the team's first trip to Juneau in at least a decade.
"They're exited about coming, and we hope we put on a good show," she said.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.