With a perfect conference record and a number-three ranking in the final Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network pool, everything should be perfect for the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team.
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Right? Not quite.
The Crimson Bears (19-3, 8-0 SE) know they must raise their game if they want a second-straight state championship. In order to do that, though, JDHS must defeat Sitka at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Ketchikan for the Southeast Region title.
The Wolves advanced by beating Ketchikan 52-46 on Thursday in the play-in game.
"Because we have gone undefeated in conference, everyone will be out to cheer for the underdog," JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said during Tuesday's practice. "I remind the girls that it's not personal, it's just that we're not the underdog and everyone wants the underdog to win."
A key to tonight's game will likely be the boards, where JDHS must contend with Sitka's standout center, Kim Dodson.
Rebounding isn't necessarily about height or muscle, just being aware of the opponent and putting a body on them. Sounds simple enough, but it's been an exercise in frustration for JDHS.
southeast title game
who: jdhs vs. sitka
when: 7:30 p.m. tonight
where: ketchikan high school
what's at stake: the crimson bears must win tonight for a chance to defend their state title.
"I think we just need to do a better job of boxing out," JDHS point guard and leading rebounder Talisa Rhea said. "If each player makes contact with their person and boxes out that person, then we'll get the rebound. It takes all five people to box out in order to get more rebounds, so that's one thing that'll definitely help us control games."
This aspect of the game came into focus during last Wednesday's 59-43 loss to Dimond. The top-ranked Lynx grabbed 44 rebounds to Juneau's 33, as the Bears struggled to contain Dimond's physical post players.
While the defeat knocked JDHS from the top of the polls, it highlighted a correctable deficiency. The information the Crimson Bears learned about themselves in that loss may become a catalyst for a deep postseason run.
"We've had some things to work on this week," Knight said. "It's always an eye-opener when you lose. Losing shows you have many things to work on. We consistently, all season, have tried to work on communication and blocking out. That is our focus."
Much of the responsibility for rebounding will rest with Juneau's host of post players.
Nicole Fenumiai, Andrea Doerflinger, Maddie Swofford and Hannah Buck must seal their players to prevent the opposition second-chance opportunities.
Other players like defensive stoppers Sophia Smith, Kerstin Kimlinger and Veronica Lietz also need to help out on the boards.
"A lot of times we don't go find a body and block out," Doerflinger said. "We just go straight to the ball. There's not a lot of communication on where people are and who we need to block out. We need to be able to find our person and be there."
Offensively, JDHS will try to control the tempo. The Crimson Bears never look to put out gaudy amounts of points, but rather dictate the pace of a game by controlling the ball.
Rhea leads the team with 16.7 points per game , but Lexi Garvey and Jordan Harvey are both capable of delivering a 3-point dagger at any time.
For Sitka, must of its offense revolves around the play of Dodson. The senior can score if she can establish position in the low post area. To combat that, Juneau's forwards must move her away from a comfortable position.
The Wolves can also shoot form the outside with Natalia Potrzuski and Kim Lorenzo.
Whether or not Sitka can hit shots above Juneau's tough defense remains to be seen. What will be more predictable, however, is that the crowd at Kayhi will be hungry to see an upset.
"You are sure of what's going to happen," Rhea said. "You have to be ready for anything and make sure you have control of the game so nothing can affect the game as much."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org