There's nothing like a 3.
A blocked shot is great. A breakaway bucket? Sweet.
But for value in points and emotion, for sealing a win or starting a rally, there is nothing like draining a 3-point basket - and the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team has been doing a lot of that this season.
The Crimson Bears have diversified and nearly doubled their 3-point output over last season. Juneau coach Lesslie Knight said the Crimson Bears work on 3-point shooting every practice, and their effort is helping to break opponents' defensive schemes.
"A lot of teams, historically, have zoned us," Knight said. "This year we should look forward to that (since) we have multiple people who can shoot the 3."
The Crimson Bears (5-3 overall) hope that shots will be falling this weekend as they host two tough non-conference rivals, starting tonight with the Dimond Lynx, 7-2 overall and ranked fourth in the state basketball poll released today. The varsity game starts at 6:30 p.m at the JDHS main gym, with the junior varsity game at 4:45 p.m.
On Friday and Saturday, the Juneau varsity will face the Lathrop Malemutes, who are ranked second in the state with a 10-1 record. Varsity games are at 6:15 p.m. each night. There are no JV games.
Through the first eight games this year, five Crimson Bears have combined to hit 37 3-pointers.
In the 2002-03 campaign, five Juneau players only managed 21 3-pointers in the first eight games - and 16 of those were made by sharpshooter Amy Neussl, who graduated after last season.
This season, the Bears have made up for Neussl's absence by spreading out their perimeter shooting. Junior Mary Rehfeld has netted 14 3s to date, while senior Heather Dillon has hit 12 and freshman Talisa Rhea has sunk seven. Seniors Kendri Cesar and Tasha McKoy have each hit a pair of 3-pointers, and other Crimson Bears have the ability to hit an outside shot should the opportunity arise.
"Teams zone us because of (senior) Tasha" McKoy's inside presence, Rehfeld said. "But here are these three, four people who can hit 3s. And we weren't really known last year because of Amy (Neussl)."
Rehfeld and Dillon each said Neussl's shooting skills gave them something to emulate the past few seasons, but each was drawn to work on their 3-point shot by Crimson Bears from prior years.
Dillon said she was impressed with the shooting of Kacie Murphy, who graduated in 2002. For Rehfeld, her inspiration to be an outside shooter came in part from watching 2000 JDHS grad Tanya Nizich, who now plays college basketball at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"It's something that I've worked on the last three or four years, ever since Tanya Nizich was here," Rehfeld said. "I've never been much of a dribbler, and I'm not very tall, so I figured shooting would be my thing."
And the learning continues. Rehfeld said she did weightlifting in the off-season to improve the strength and speed of her shots, and she draws inspiration from talented opponents like Wasilla's Chandice Cronk, who rattled Juneau for five 3-pointers earlier this season, and scored 48 points against Colony last week.
"How quick her release is - that motivates me," Rehfeld said. "I really want the release that Chandice Cronk has. You get off her for a half-second, and she pops it."
As much as individual skill is required, Dillon said Juneau's 3-point success is a reflection on all the Crimson Bears.
"We're a little team, so we've got to work harder," she said. "It's the whole team that gets the shot in."
Juneau will need to be at the top of its game against two of the state's top girls teams.
Dimond is led by senior guard Zee Zee Young, a four-year varsity player, and boasts impressive young talent in twin 6-foot-1 sophomore posts Savannah and Shaina Afoa, and sophomore guard Lillian Bullock.
Last season, Juneau beat Dimond in two regular-season meetings, but Bullock and the Afoa sisters did not play for the Lynx in that game.
When the two teams met again in the consolation bracket of the state tournament, Bullock scored a game-high 17 points and the Afoas were a force on the boards as the Lynx ended the Crimson Bears' season.
Lathrop is led by junior Alana Clooten and senior Kari Reabold, who scored 17 and 15 points, respectively, in the Malemutes' 47-42 win over Juneau two weeks ago at the Lady T-Bird Classic in Anchorage.
In that game, Juneau struggled against Lathrop's height. Clooten and Reabold are both 5-10, and Lathrop has five other 5-10 or 5-11 players on its roster.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.