Life's not fair. Apparently, neither is high school girls basketball.
For the second year in a row the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team is stuck in a Southeast Conference hotbox with Ketchikan. Coaches from each team declare the other a top-five squad in the state, but only one can represent the SEC at the state championship tournament when the dust settles.
The Crimson Bears (10-2 overall) have knocked the Lady Kings (11-1 overall) out of state contention each of the past two seasons, and have toppled Ketchikan in the SEC regional tournament in every year since 2001. Add that up, and JDHS is in for a rough couple of games when the Lady Kings host the Bears for a pair of conference openers tonight and Saturday in Ketchikan.
It might sound like a disadvantage to say that Ketchikan's first-year coach Mark Woodward spent the last six years in Mexico and has more experience coaching middle school boys than high school girls. Apparently, though, that's just what the Lady Kings ordered.
"All coaching carries over. Sometimes the girls tease me because I'll throw in a football reference or two at practice, but my philosophy really carries over," Woodward said.
That philosophy, put plainly, is allowing a team's playmakers to make plays. Woodward ran a successful spread offense at Seward before leaving the far north for the far south, and thinks he has the ultimate scrambling quarterback in 5-foot-7 junior guard Laci Effenberger.
"Her ability to create just stands out. She's not truly a one (point guard) or a 2 (shooting guard), she's more like a one-and-a-half," Woodward said. "If we just wanted her to drive and pass she'd lead the state in assists. She has such a scorer's mentality, though, it's neat to see her score 28 on a girl who's (5-foot-11)."
Teams have struggled to contain Effenberger this season as she has amassed an average of 17.6 points per game. Juneau-Douglas might have the answer, however, in their own attacking point guard - sophomore Karli Brakes.
"That matchup with Karli is going to be great," Woodward said. "That alone is worth watching. They're both aggressive, special players and our teams are blessed to have them at the point guard spots."
While Woodward is a first-time participant in this weekend's big SEC rivalry games, he has been a long-time fan of both programs and JDHS coach Lesslie Knight's long history of competitive programs.
"The first thing I asked the girls when I got the job was 'when was the last time you beat Juneau?'" Woodward said. "Then I took them in the gym and showed them the last banner they hung up there. They know how much these games mean and how long it's been."
Both the Bears and the Lady Kings are comprised of mostly juniors and sophomores, with Ketchikan playing the only senior in this weekend's games - sixth man and wing Molly Ortiz. The bulk of the teams have developed their games through grade school and middle school systems that frequently play one another, and now have built a history of high school head-butting. What surprises Woodwardy most, though, is the friendly respect the two teams have for one another.
"It really is a cool thing that these girls get to stay with each other and get to know their families and friends. At the end of the game there's always parents coming down from the stands and hugging the other team's players," Woodward said. "I think if you're gonna play against a friend, you're gonna play hard If you're playing against a brother, there's going to be blood. That's Juneau and Ketchikan. It's not regions, but it's gonna fell like it."