It's fitting that the Crimson Bears will skip the usual Senior Night shenanigans when they end their regular season by hosting Southeast Conference rival Ketchikan tonight and Saturday. After all, the sweet smell of those parent-bound roses would only get lost in the stench of vengeance.
The Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team is comprised of five juniors and five sophomores this season, with no fourth-year players to honor at the year's end. Those youthful minds have kept a veteran-level grudge, though, with just one team in their sights since taking a tight 64-53 loss and a 55-39 spanking in Ketchikan Jan. 30-31 - those mischievous little Lady Kings. The hosts fought through a size disadvantage at nearly every position in those two games to poke, prod and pester the Bears into 47 turnovers while they scurried into the open court for easy baskets.
The Crimson Bears (13-5 overall, 0-2 SEC) have since tightened their grip, as well as their defense, posting a 3-1 record in February. That streak included a 10-point road win at a tough Wasilla team, and was capped by wild five-point loss at the defending 4A state champs from Colony. JDHS has allowed just over 33 points per game this month, and coach Lesslie Knight credits her team's improved communication and movement on defense.
Containing Ketchikan point guard Laci Effenberger will be the key to continuing that success this weekend, after the junior averaged 16 points per game in the first series. The Bears have bothered the slippery 5-foot-7 guard in the past by playing a larger defender on her, and Knight said her team will continue that strategy. JDHS Junior Emily Johnson will start out guarding Effenberger.
"Emily's about (5-foot-8) with long arms and she's really quick as well," Knight said. "Hopefully she can't get her shot off with those taller players on her."
The Bears will have another long set of paws to throw at Effenberger this weekend in sophomore Sarah Tarver. The lanky forward missed the teams' first two games while away on a family vacation, and both coaches mentioned her as a potential difference maker this time around.
The JDHS offense has also improved this month, averaging exactly 63 points per game in the club's three wins. Knight and her players pointed out the team for team-wide offensive aggression after the earlier losses to Ketchikan, and that appears to have also developed. Junior Kristen Dierck, sophomore Taylor Larson and junior Brittany Fenumiai have all taken turns as the teams' top scorer in the last four games. Knight's 10-player rotation also means that another threat could emerge this weekend.
The Lady Kings (15-2 overall, 2-0 SEC) have put up a 2-1 record of their own in February that includes a 14-point win over a tough Lathrop squad. Ketchikan's loss came against the same Wasilla team, though, that the Bears topped handily just two days prior. As you might expect, the teams' respective coaches have varying opinions on just how much the Wasilla comparison can be trusted.
"Wasilla has a dominant forward (two-time All-State nominee Jenna Johnson) who we do a really nice job of containing," JDHS head coach Lesslie Knight said. "She went to town on Ketchikan. That should be a confidence booster for us since we beat them by 10. Hopefully that helps the kids recognize that they're a solid team coming into this weekend."
First-year Lady Kings coach Mark Woodward believes his team's loss to Wasilla was more a matter of circumstance, since two of his guards were down with the flu.
"The girls were really focused on Juneau and, after we beat them, I think we just let down a little bit," Woodward said. "We weren't 100 percent healthy and Wasilla found a way to exploit that. They just got us in the end."
Woodward said the bug is still having an effect on his team and has limited his practices to only portions of the roster over the past two weeks.
This weekend's games technically mean very little to both teams since they will meet regardless, as the only two remaining members of the 4A SEC, in the regional best-of-three championship series in Ketchikan March 6-7. With at least two more games coming up, the coaches also have very different approaches to what they will reveal this weekend.
"I can't hold anything back. Every game I just want to put the best product on the floor," Woodward said. "The same team you saw in Ketchikan last month will be playing with everything they've got this weekend."
Knight, on the other hand claims her squad will still have "a few cards up our sleeve" that they will save for regionals next month.
Both teams end their regular seasons this weekend, with the schools' respective boys teams meeting next Friday and Saturday to end their regular seasons. The varsity teams tip off at 8 p.m. at the JDHS main gym both tonight and Saturday.