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Defending the crown

Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011

It couldn’t have come out any better for the Juneau-Douglas girls’ basketball team if the Crimson Bears had drawn the bracket up themselves.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

JDHS begins defense of its 4A state crown today at 8 a.m. against South, and the Winning Percentage Index gods did the champs a favor.

A big favor.

One-loss JDHS ended up the No. 2 seed while two-loss Wasilla came out No. 1, but with a heavy price.

Either No. 4 Dimond or No. 5 West Valley — the presumed back half of the top four title contenders — will be gone after their first-round matchup today at 9:45 a.m., and the winner will move on Friday to likely face Wasilla, last year’s state runner-up.

Boom. That quickly, two of three big threats bite the proverbial dust.

“We’re very happy with what we got,” senior guard Nani Ostrom freely admitted. “Seeing three of the top five teams on one side of the bracket is really great for us. It’s going to be fun watching Dimond, West Valley and Wasilla go at it.”

Coach Lesslie Knight said the two seed was a blessing in disguise because no matter how great a team is, a little luck can go a long way.

“Looking at the draw we got, we really hoped we’d end up in that number one spot. But we’re most fortunate we ended up number two,” she said. “To have Wasilla and Dimond potentially have to do battle before we even see them is great.”

But Juneau-Douglas neither presumes nor assumes victory over seventh-seeded South in the first round, or a potential matchup against No. 3 Colony in the second.

A quick check of the record book shows a 76-17 win over the Wolverines and two wins over the Knights, both by the score of 43-21, this season.

“But Colony is a really well-rounded team,” Taylor Larson said. “There’s not anything stopping them from beating us, but I think we know how to get in their heads and irritate them to not allow them to do the things they want to do.”

“I think Colony is a tough team but it’s got to be in their heads that we beat them twice,” Knight added.

But everything could hinge on, of all things, a balky hinge.

Senior forward and All-State first-teamer Sarah Tarver went down on the opening tip against Ketchikan in the 4A girls’ bracket championship game of the Region V 3A/4A Basketball Tournament. X-rays showed two bone chips in her ankle from a previous injury, and she suffered a severely sprained ankle. Nearly two weeks later, she’s ready go and returned to practice this week.

“She’s great,” Knight said. “She hasn’t missed a beat. She starts out kind of slow but once she gets warmed up and by the end of practice, she’s driving and going to the basket.

“We plan to play her.”

In the end, talent and experience often win out. JDHS has both in spades.

“The amazing thing is so many of our kids have been there and we’ve been really fortunate to have been there seven of the last eight years,” Knight said. “It creates an atmosphere of comfort so even kids that haven’t been there with us as a team, they’ve been there with their siblings.

“The first time you walk into Sullivan (Arena) it’s really kind of overwhelming and you’re just in awe, but our kids are comfortable there and that’s huge.”

Knight said she’s had no trouble motivating her team, and she has no doubt the Bears will make a good showing in Anchorage.

“Our kids are tenacious. Taylor and Karli (Brakes) alone are going to force things and make things happen. They’re not going to tank and they’re going to fight hard. I think that goes across the board. Our kids have high expectations and if we fall, we’re going to fall hard.

“You have to have a certain mindset. In the past I’ve had to come up with all kinds of gimmicks to distract the kids and motivate them,” she continued. “The last two years, these kids have had their own goal, they’re very motivated and I’m just here guiding. Our seniors last year set that standard for them and pushed them, and they stepped right in and filled those shoes and are just as motivated.”

All of the 2011 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Basketball Championships games are being broadcast online. Find the link on the home page of the ASAA’s website at www.asaa.org.



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