In this weekend's matchups between the Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain girls' basketball teams, more than just Saturday's senior-night pride is at stake - the Crimson Bears need two wins to get the first seed in the upcoming Region V tournament.
The state-title contending Bears (17-3, 4-2) are heavily favored against the winless Falcons, but for the first time ever, Saturday's senior night will be in front of an all-Juneau crowd.
"It's going to be a great feeling because everybody is going to come and there are going to be signs up and everything," said senior guard Kristen Dierick. "Everybody is hyped up because this is basically a big finale for us."
While there is a feeling of excitement among the five seniors on the JDHS team, there also is the inevitability of certain emotions incorporated with playing in front of the home crowd for the final time.
"It's really sad, too; mixed emotions, definitely," Dierick said. "Overall, it's kind of overwhelming."
While emotions are going to be running high and senior night usually brings distractions, especially for the home team, JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said this weekend's events will beenjoyable.
"It's going to be a big event in that it's our senior night. That in itself brings a lot of anxious nerves and things, so it's a good series to have our senior night," she said. "It's especially nice since it's all local people here in town.
"Because these kids have grown up here and gone to the two middle schools in the valley and downtown, it'll be great to have the community supporting them without the intensity of the competition. It will just be a fun event."
Knight said the team will enjoy the weekend, but a big matchup with Ketchikan at regionals lies ahead. She said the team will spend the next two games tying up the loose ends.
"The last three tough games we've had, our bench hasn't gotten to play as much. So I hope this is an opportunity for them to get more action and help prepare them for the regional tournament," she said. "One of the things is we tend to rely on several people for our scoring and we need some other individuals to step up."
Knight said Ketchikan has historically done a good job defending senior wing Brittany Fenumiai, so she needs others to contribute on the offensive end, in particular junior forwards Taylor Larson and Sarah Tarver, who has missed some time on the court recently after a soccer trip to Arizona.
On the other bench, current Thunder Mountain coach and former Crimson Bear star Tanya Nizich said she remembers senior night at Juneau-Douglas always being a big deal. She expects nothing different for the current bunch of Bears.
"Senior night for anybody is huge. I remember my senior night and JDHS doesn't take anything lightly - they're going to come out hard," she said. "It's their last hometown game and they want to go out with a bang in front of their friends andfamily."
As for her team, given there are no senior Falcons, Nizich said it will be interesting to see how her team has progressed since opening weekend against this same JDHS squad.
"We're pretty excited to end with JDHS just because we started with them. It will be fun for me to see where my players are and how much improvement we've had throughout the year," she said. "Hopefully, we can piece everything together that we've been working on and show JDHS what we've learned."
Going forward, Nizich said it's pretty simple when it comes to the game plan. She wants to see all-out effort.
"I want to see hustle. I want to see some urgency in getting after loose balls - just be the hustle team," she said. "If anything, I want to show all the teams in the Southeast that we're playing to the buzzer and giving it all we've got."
In what has been a season full of learning experiences, Nizich said the silver lining has been the attitudes of herplayers.
"From game to game, as a coach, I'm proud to see them show up ready to go," she said. "A lot of teams would probably have a bad attitude and hang their heads, and we're not like that. Overall, that's what I'm most proud of."
The first game of the teams' final regular-season series is tonight at Thunder Mountain High School at 8 p.m.
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