After splitting a series at home with Stouheast Conference archrival Ketchikan, the Juneau-Douglas girls' basketball team has hit the road for a few days, though it's not for the usual road trip.
The Crimson Bears are in the Denver, Colo., area preparing for several games as the JV team takes the floor tonight before the varsity prepares for a game at a school with an infamoushistory.
The Bears will be playing at Columbine High School on Thursday in Littleton, Colo.
For those old enough to remember, one of the most tragic events in the recent history of this country occured at the school in April of 1999 when two armed students were responsible for a shooting spree that left 15 people dead and 23 injured, including the gunmen, who finally turned the guns on themselves.
The majority of the girls' basketball team is too young to remember the incident, but the team has been learning about the tragic history of the school where they will be playing their first games.
"Most of the girls were between the ages of four and six so in general, they are too young to remember, which is shocking," said coach Lesslie Knight. "It was just a weird coincidence that I had been putting out feelers and contacting hundreds of schools trying to get a game.
"After I got home from one of the (Capital City) Classic games a couple of weeks ago, I watched this movie about Columbine," she continued. "And the next day, the athletic director (of Columbine) contacted me. So it was a really bizarre situation."
Since the incident, Columbine High School has constructed a memorial in honor of those who died, something Knight said she will take the team to see.
Karli Brakes said the Bears are excited to experience different competition, and for a chance to learn about school's tragic past.
"Our coach had us look it up and we've talked about it as a team, so we all know what happened there," she said. "It's actually kind of cool that we're going there, because of the history."
As for going all the way to Colorado to play, Brakes said the team is ready for the challenge.
"We're definitely going to see some higher levels of play," she said. "I think it will make us stronger as a team to play at different levels and to see how competitive it is down south. We're excited to see how we play down there."
When teams travel to Denver, elevation tends to affect their conditioning. But Brakes said they will be fine because the team can go 12 deep.
"(Coach) said we should just go as hard as we can," she said. "We might feel a little sick or just out of shape, but we still need to go our hardest and just play our game.
"(Team depth) will help a lot because we'll probably get tired."
As for going into the games knowing very little - if anything - about their opponents, Knight said the team just has to stick to their usual game plan.
"You just have to play them straight up. We always try to play our best game and not worry so much about what they're doing," she said. "We're a defensively-focused team, so we should be playing everybody straight up and containing them."
The team also will travel to Pueblo and Boulder, Colo., to play games and visit colleges. The girls will watch a game at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where two former JDHS student-athletes played basketball.
"We had two girls from here, Mary and Hilary Rehfield, that both played at Colorado State Pueblo," Knight said. "The ideal thing is to get the girls out and to see some of the former players playing at the college level, but both the Rehfield girls have graduated."
Knight said Mary Rehfield is in the Pueblo area still, so the team will connect with her and go watch a basketball game at her alma mater. Knight said she plans on taking the team to visit at least three campuses while in Colorado to give the girls a "college tour," as many of them are nearing the next phase of their academic lives.
On the court, Emily Johnson will make her long-awaited season debut for the Crimson Bears. And she couldn't be more ready to return from a torn ACL.
"I'm very excited," she said. "I've been waiting all season."
As for making her debut in Colorado, she said it could be anywhere - she just wants to get on the court.
"I just want to play anywhere, it doesn't really matter," she said. "I'm just excited to get back."
Johnson said she is in shape and happy with the way the Bears have been playing in her absence.
"I think very highly of my team - they're all really great players. We've been playing together so long and we've all been able to work together really well," she said. "So the fact that I haven't been there hasn't hindered us at all, and we've proven that.
Johnson joked that she just wants to get some playing time.
"I'm just hoping I get some minutes back."
Matthew Tynan can be reached at 523-2267, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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