It's been three weeks since the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team saw action and the Crimson Bears are anxious to hit the floor again this weekend.
But that anxiety isn't as much about finally getting to play again, but in who the Crimson Bears will play this weekend. The Juneau girls travel south to play the two-time defending champion Region V-Class 4A champion Ketchikan Kings at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday (games broadcast locally on KJNO 630-AM).
"I'm very excited. I really want to play Ketchikan, especially after what they've done to us the last two seasons," Juneau senior center Hilary Rehfeld said. "I just want to play some good ball this weekend."
"I think there's a lot of excitement about playing Ketchikan," Juneau junior forward Amy Neussl said. "Not only because they lost to Sitka, and that's a change from last year. Plus they're in our league."
While Class 4A No. 3 Juneau (5-1 overall, 0-0 in region) has been idle since suffering its first loss of the season, a 45-35 decision against No. 2 Wasilla on Dec. 29 in the championship game of Juneau's Princess Capital City Classic, the unranked Kings have been busy.
Ketchikan (7-1 overall, 1-1 region) opened its season with a victory over Mount Edgecumbe and two victories over Metlakatla, both Class 3A teams, then the Kings split a two-game series with Sitka. Last weekend, Ketchikan won the title in its own Lady Kings Invitational, but its 71-48 victory over North Pole in Saturday's championship game was its only Class 4A game of the tourney.
"We're ready to bounce back," Juneau sophomore point guard Kendri Cesar said of the loss to Wasilla, which prevented the Crimson Bears from winning their second tournament of the season. "With Ketchikan we're starting league play, and we know what to expect with them."
Even though Ketchikan lost six core players from its region-champion team to graduation, the Kings still return several strong players and a balanced attack. In its victory over North Pole on Saturday, Ketchikan had six players score at least nine points and seven players with at least seven points. Ketchikan is known for attacking the basket on offense, and for drawing lots of trips to the foul line.
The leading returners for the Kings are guards Anne Elliott (the MVP of last weekend's tourney) and Jodi Jakubek, forward Jonnae Ostrom and center Deanna Hallman. Plus Ketchikan picked up two transfers from Metlakatla (Ashley Hayward and Darcel Williams) who started for the Misschiefs last season.
"We saw them play at Houston's (Juneau boys coach George Houston's summer basketball camp)," Rehfeld said. "They're good players, but they're nothing we can't handle."
"We know they lost a lot of players, but they've still got good players," Cesar said.
The Juneau players said they've had some fairly intense practices since their last game, and even Hamey said he's ready to end the layoff.
"It seems like it's been a long time since we played," Juneau coach Jim Hamey said. "But we had a lot to learn, so it's not like we don't need the work. We had something to do."
Over the layoff, the Crimson Bears have been working on improving their offense, wich has sputtered at times. Neussl said the Crimson Bears have been learning new ways to attack zone defenses, trying to use more player movement to get people loose for open shots. Hamey said the Crimson Bears worked on all phases of their game over the break, but the offense took up a lot of their time.
"We've been trying to be a better scoring team, and we've been working on our conditioning since it seemed like we were a little slow at times," Hamey said. "But mainly we've been working on our offense, doing some continuity things. Our new offense is a little more predictable, but it takes some of the guesswork out of what everybody's supposed to be doing."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.