The Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team has struggled at times this season to find chemistry on the court.
The Crimson Bears' first road trip of the season may be just what the players need to unite as a team.
Juneau heads to Anchorage today for four days of games, and it will open the trip tonight at 7:30 p.m. against the Service Cougars. Then the Crimson Bears head to East Anchorage High School to participate in the 20th Annual Lady T-Bird Classic, where they will play North Pole at 4 p.m. Thursday, East Anchorage at 8 p.m. Friday and Chugiak at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"Road trips are the time we really develop relationships," Juneau coach Lesslie Knight said. "It's fun to hit the road and to play on an opponent's court. It's a whole new challenge. ... We're anxious to see East and Service."
Juneau (4-1 overall) beat Bartlett with relative ease twice last weekend - by 46 points on Friday, by 17 points on Saturday - but will face much tougher tests starting tonight.
Service, which had a 4-0 record going into Tuesday night's game against South Anchorage, features a familiar face for the Crimson Bears - junior guard Lillian Bullock, who helped Dimond beat Juneau in last March's state championship game.
Bullock was forced to transfer to Service when Anchorage redrew its high school boundaries during the offseason, and she has made an instant impact with her new team. She averaged nearly 30 points per game in the Cougars' first three wins, and scored a game-high 18 in last week's 55-43 non-conference win over West Valley.
Senior forward Sarah Jones and freshman forward Sylvia Bullock - Lillian's little sister - also have made significant contributions to the Cougars this season.
North Pole (5-0 overall), Juneau's Thursday opponent, beat Eielson on Tuesday after a long holiday layoff. Prior to Tuesday's win, the Patriots had not played since Dec. 19, when they won the title at the Palmer Elks Tip-Off. Junior guard Kelsey McIntosh is North Pole's go-to player, having posted games of 20, 26 and 24 points in her team's wins over West Valley, Palmer and Houston at the Palmer tourney, where she was named most valuable player.
Juneau faces perennial power East Anchorage on Friday. The Thunderbirds are 4-6 after beating Dimond on Tuesday, but all of the losses came at tough Outside tournaments over the winter break.
East's key players are 5-11 senior guard Aiesha Ailey-Brown, who going into Tuesday's game had led the Thunderbirds in scoring in all but one game this season, and 6-1 senior center Maggie Burgess, who had been East's rebounding leader in all but one game. East has won five state titles, but missed the state tourney last year for the first time since 1994.
Saturday's Juneau-Chugiak game will be a rematch of the Dec. 27 opening game of the Capital City Classic, which Chugiak rallied to win 60-55.
Chugiak, a perfect 8-0 going into Tuesday night's game against Bartlett, is led by 6-1 senior center Kelsey Griffin and 6-0 senior forward Sarah Neuschwander. Griffin - who will play basketball at NCAA Division I Nebraska next fall - scored 16 points and Neuschwander added 13 in the Mustangs' win over the Crimson Bears. Juneau led that game 22-18 at halftime, but Chugiak used a heavy rebounding advantage to power ahead in the second half.
Other teams at the East tourney include Colony, Ketchikan and Wasilla, so when the Crimson Bears are not playing, they will have the chance to scout future opponents.
The Juneau junior varsity also is traveling to Anchorage this week. The Crimson Bears will play at Service tonight, then head to the Lady T-Bird Classic for games against Class 3A Barrow at 2 p.m. Thursday and North Pole at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.