It could be said that Juneau girls basketball player Mary Rehfeld is a seventh-year senior.
She's in her fourth year at Juneau-Douglas High School, but Rehfeld was a familiar face at the JDHS gym long before her freshman season.
Basketball is a family affair for the Rehfelds, and when Mary's sister Hilary - three years older - made the Crimson Bear varsity as a freshman, Mary Rehfeld was part of a package deal.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, my sister is on the varsity basketball team,'" said Rehfeld, who was in sixth grade at the time. "It was really exciting for me, and that's when I started to get involved. I met the team at an early age, and I saw how the team ran. ...
"Every chance I had, I would be at the gym."
All those years with the Crimson Bears will start to culminate this week as the Juneau girls play at home in the Southeast Conference-Class 3A/4A Tournament. Juneau (16-6 overall) earned the top seed and a first-round bye by going 8-0 in conference play during the regular season.
Sitka and Ketchikan face off in the opening Class 4A girls game at 7 p.m. tonight, with the winner advancing to play Juneau in the region final at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The winner of Friday's game gets the sole Southeast berth to the state tournament.
Last year, Juneau won Southeast, advanced to state and beat a strong Wasilla squad in the semifinals before losing to Dimond in the championship game. Rehfeld said that experience has driven her all season.
"I'm motivated this year just off the game we experienced last year, the feelings we experienced," Rehfeld said. "It was the most amazing feeling to beat Wasilla and make that championship game. I want to know what that next step feels like."
Rehfeld's first basketball steps were Juneau Parks and Rec basketball clinics in kindergarten, and was playing games by third grade. When her older sister joined the Crimson Bears, Rehfeld's course was set.
"While I was still in high school, Mary was always around the gym with me," Hilary Rehfeld wrote in an e-mail; she attends and plays basketball for Colorado State University-Pueblo. "She would come to our open gyms and was a familiar face around JDHS as a middle schooler. She was even invited on one of our summer basketball trips to California as an eighth grader. Everyone was always impressed with her ability to play the game so well at such a young age."
Through the years, Rehfeld has developed into a strong 3-point shooter, while gradually adding other elements - like rebounding - to her game.
"Mary has a lot of natural ability," Juneau coach Lesslie Knight said. "She's a good example of a player who is well-rounded. She's multi-dimensional."
"Mary ... is never satisfied with the bare minimum (but) rather spends countless hours in the gym working on her game, when no one else is around," Hilary Rehfeld wrote. "Mary's greatest asset is obviously her 3-ball. When we play 'horse' together, she always kills me from outside."
Off the court, Rehfeld is involved in student government, she organized housing for this week's region tournament, and her whole family gets involved in the Crimson Bear program. Rehfeld's younger sister Margaret, a freshman, just wrapped up a season on the Juneau JV/C team. Their father, Bob, helps run the team booster club. And their mother, Karen, is like a "team mom," Rehfeld said.
"Truly, the Rehfelds eat, sleep and play basketball," Knight said. "It's huge part of her life and it's fun to watch how involved the entire family is."
"Everyone is very committed to the Crimson Bears," Rehfeld said. "My emotions are their emotions."
"In our family, it seems like basketball is sometimes life," Hilary Rehfeld wrote.
If anything, the sport has given Rehfeld and her sisters a lot of life lessons.
"Basketball has taught her a lot," Karen Rehfeld said. "She's had to learn some humility, she's had to interact with players an adults in a way a lot of kids never have to. ... It's been a huge growing, maturing experience for her, and we can see it year to year in how she deals with disappointments, and with great things that happen."
Rehfeld has her sights on playing college basketball, but she's still looking for the school that fits her best. But this week, her focus is on enjoying the seventh - and final - region tourney of her time with the Crimson Bears.
"It's a huge event, and I 100 percent can say I'm never going to find this kind of atmosphere anywhere else," Rehfeld said.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.