KETCHIKAN - Great games, loud crowds and loads of school spirit. Renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.
The Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team is looking forward to soaking in the whole region tournament experience this weekend in Ketchikan as the Crimson Bears seek to defend their Region V-Class 4A and Southeast titles.
Juneau opens tourney play at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, facing the winner of today's Sitka-Ketchikan game. The winner of Friday's game earns a Class 4A state tournament berth and a spot in Saturday's Southeast championship game against the top Region V-Class 3A girls team.
"The way all the Southeast communities come together," Crimson Bear coach Lesslie Knight said of the best thing about the region tourney. "Whether it's adults or kids, you see old friends you haven't seen in years."
The players, too, look forward to the pomp of the tournament.
"Being able to watch all the other teams play, having all of the 3A and 4A teams there. Everybody from Southeast Alaska is right there, watching us play. It's a whole new experience," Juneau junior Heather Dillon said.
"You have the pep bands and the drill teams and the cheerleaders and the basketball teams all there," junior Alida Bus said. "Everyone's there to have a good time."
In the midst of the great atmosphere, the Crimson Bears (15-5 overall, 8-0 region) are focused on Friday's game as they aim to hold on to the region title they won back last season after Ketchikan claimed it in 2000 and 2001.
While Juneau swept all of its regular-season region games this year, that success has little meaning this weekend.
"We're all back at square one going into the tournament; we just happen to have the bye up front," Knight said.
"It's a clean slate," senior Danielle Larson said. "We have our record to boost us up, but that's in the past."
Knight said the Bears strategy against whichever opponent they face - Sitka (5-16, 1-7) or Ketchikan (14-6, 3-5) - will not change much from previous meetings.
"Our game plan is going to be the same - hold their big scorers to under 10 points and for us to put numbers on the board," Knight said.
The host Kings look to senior standout Anne Elliott to carry much of their scoring load, and will have the home-court advantage in all their games this weekend. The Wolves have a more balanced scoring attack, with senior Sidney Wyman and freshman Kim Dodson frequently leading the team in points.
One area of concern for the Crimson Bears is coming out strong from the start in the big game. The team has been plagued by weak first games in its various two-game region series this season. At the tournament, the Crimson Bears cannot afford to have an off-game, since a loss on Friday means they won't make the Class 4A state tournament next weekend in Anchorage.
"We have not always had the best first games," Dillon said. "Going into this we only have one game, the championship game. It's do or die."
Juneau's opponent will have had to play an extra game, and Knight said that could make them a tougher team since they won't have first-game jitters.
"Whoever wins (the first game) has a lot of the nervousness worked out," she said.
The Juneau players said their two Southeast road trips to end the regular season helped further bond the team as they come down the home stretch.
"We're definitely working more as a team than at the beginning," Larson said. "We've come together really well."
"Hopefully we can get it together for one more game to send us to Anchorage," Bus said.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.