The Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team is facing a make-or-break weekend as it heads north for four games in the Anchorage area.
The Crimson Bears (8-2 overall) play at Chugiak tonight at 7:30 p.m., then will play in the East Anchorage Thunderbird Classic on Thursday through Saturday. In the T-Bird Classic, Juneau plays defending Class 4A state champion Palmer at 2 p.m. Thursday, tournament host East at 8 p.m. Friday, and Bartlett at 2 p.m. Saturday. Audio feeds from all four games will be broadcast in Juneau on the Education Access Channel (GCI Cable Channel 6).
``We're hoping to get all four really good games,'' Juneau coach Jim Hamey said. ``Most of all, we want to be tested. I think a lot of these teams are still unknown.''
``We're excited,'' Juneau junior forward Michael Kohan said. ``We're willing to meet the challenges.''
Juneau, which is tied for fourth in the Alaska Media High School Basketball Poll but hasn't played since sweeping a two-game series from Sitka two weekends ago, will open the series tonight against a team that is coming off an even longer layoff. Chugiak (2-3) hasn't played since Jan. 7, coach Matt Sugita said.
The unranked Mustangs lost four players from their team that took sixth place at state last year, and Hamey said they were kind of a mystery. But the Crimson Bears aren't looking past Chugiak even if it is the only team with a losing record Juneau will face this weekend. Chugiak is led by 6-foot-0 senior post player Alicia Adams, who Sugita called a preseason all-Region IV pick, and junior guard Krystal Seward. Another senior, 5-9 guard-forward Krystle Robertson, is another leader for Chugiak but she will miss tonight's game because of a knee injury.
``Chugiak's got a good team,'' Hamey said.
``We can't look too far ahead,'' Juneau senior guard-forward Tanya Nizich said. ``We have to take things one game at a time. But playing Chugiak will give us time to get settled down and used to playing again.''
When Juneau opens play in the T-Bird Classic, it will play the one team it knows. Juneau hosted Palmer (8-2) for a two-game set in early January, winning the first game by 10 points and losing the second by three. Until Tuesday night when Wasilla claimed a 61-55 upset victory over the top-ranked Moose, that loss to Juneau was the only blemish on Palmer's record. Wasilla is tied with Juneau for the No. 4 spot in the poll.
``Palmer is a very good team and they've given us some good games,'' Hamey said. Palmer is led by junior point guard Tami Callison, who led the Moose in scoring against Juneau, and senior forward Katie Williams.
But the game the Crimson Bears are really looking forward to is Friday's game against No. 2 East, which plays some of the best pressure defense in the state.
The Thunderbirds (6-2, but undefeated in Alaska) have some of the best young talent in the state in 6-foot-2 junior Azella Perryman (an honorable mention USA Today and Street & Smith all-American) and 6-3 sophomore Tenecia Macon, a twin tower combination that can run. Macon and Perryman combined for 57 points Tuesday in East's 79-30 victory over Service. Throw in 5-7 sophomore point guard Christa Wilson, who is already among the best players in the state at that position, and it's easy to see why Juneau thinks East is the best team in the state.
``We're looking forward to East,'' Nizich said.
``East should be a level above,'' Hamey said. ``They've got good coaching and they play excellent defense. Not to take anything away from Palmer, but I think they (the Thunderbirds) were upset last year when they lost in the semifinals. I'm looking forward to their pressure. I think we're better prepared this year.''
The Crimson Bears think East might even be better than its team that took third place in last year's state tournament (beating Juneau in the third-fifth place game). Several of the Juneau players said there was a rumor that a new player who was even taller than Perryman and Macon had just transferred in at East, even though the rumor could not be confirmed (the Anchorage Daily News didn't know of a new player and East coach Dorena Bingham could not be reached).
``East is one of our main rivals,'' Kohan said. ``I heard they have a new, 6-foot-5 person. If that's the case, we'll really have to play our best ball. I think we're much more confident and controlled in our ball-handling.''
Juneau closes out the road trip against unranked Bartlett (5-3), which has been getting votes in the poll. The Golden Bears are led by guards Chantel Frazier and Ebony Lewis and run many of the same plays as East since head coach Karin Turner-Wheeler spent three years as Bingham's assistant coach at East.
The Crimson Bears could post a perfect 4-0 record this weekend, but they also could come home with a 2-2 record or even worse. The Crimson Bears said the road trip could be called a success, regardless of the record.
``It depends on how we play,'' Nizich said. ``We can be proud if we go our hardest in every game.''
``There are a number of teams that are at the top this year, and I think that makes for an interesting season,'' Hamey said. ``We want to play well on the road. We want to execute and get it done.''