ANCHORAGE - The Juneau girls basketball team stuck to its strengths and walked away with two big victories at last weekend's Region V tourney.
But there was something missing. The Crimson Bears played lethargically, lacking the fire, spirit and drive needed for success at the next level.
To energize the team for this weekend's Class 4A state tournament, coach Lesslie Knight looked to the past this week - playing film clips of Juneau girls state champion teams from 1983 and 1996. She even donned the uniform she wore as a player on the '83 team.
"I think they need to taste the feel of victory," said Knight, who was an assistant coach in 1996. "It goes back to believing you can do it.
"That team in '83 won (the title) without ever having won a game at the state tournament" before that season.
Seeing exuberant Juneau players of the past celebrating state titles left an impression on this season's Crimson Bears.
"Watching (the state champion teams) jump up and down - it gave goose bumps to every one of us," sophomore Lexi Garvey said.
"We've been trying to get motivated, get fired up," senior Alida Bus said. "We need to have our best three games of the season this weekend."
Juneau opens its state journey at 6:50 p.m. tonight at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena against the defending Class 4A state champion Chugiak Mustangs.
The fourth-ranked Crimson Bears (19-5) last faced No. 5 Chugiak in January 2003 in Anchorage - last season - and the Mustangs won 51-49.
But Chugiak (19-6) lost all-state 6-foot guard/post Erica Putnam to graduation, and the Mustangs have been plagued by injuries this season - most notably to senior guard Elyse Hartman, a two-time all-state selection who suffered a season-ending knee injury in January.
"They play a lot like we do - a lot of motion offense, man-to-man defense," Knight said. "What I admired last year was that they had so much depth on the bench. Losing a few players might affect that (this year)."
Leading the way for Chugiak in Hartman's absence have been 5-foot-2 senior guard Courtney Waters, 6-foot-1 junior guard-forward Kelsey Griffin and 6-foot junior forward-center Sarah Neuschwander. Neuschwander and Waters made the All-Region IV Team this season.
The Mustangs lost in the semifinals to Dimond in last weekend's Region IV Tournament, but battled back in the consolation bracket and beat East Anchorage for the final state berth. East, which won the 2000-02 state titles, failed to make the state tourney for the first time since 1994.
The Region IV highlighted the topsy-turvy nature of Class 4A girls hoops in Alaska this season. No team compiled a perfect record against in-state opponents.
"I think it will be a good matchup," Juneau senior Tasha McKoy said of facing Chugiak. "We're pretty even. They've lost to people we beat, and we lost to people they beat."
It's been more than a month since Juneau last faced competition outside of Southeast. To prepare for the faster-paced "up north" style, the Crimson Bears played against the Juneau boys in practice this week.
"I'm hoping that scrimmaging them will pick up our tempo a bit," Knight said.
"We're more aggressive when we play the boys," McKoy said.
Juneau has gone two-and-out the last two state tournaments. This year's team - especially the five Crimson Bears seniors - hopes to break that unwelcome streak and make a run deep into the tourney.
"This is our last shot at it, and a state title is a lifetime memory," Bus said. "It's something that I've dreamed about, that the five of us would win state our senior year."
If Juneau wins tonight, the Crimson Bears will play at 8:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of today's Wasilla-Service game. Service, with an 11-13 record, stunned East with a semifinal win in overtime at the Region IV tourney.
The winner of Friday's game advances to the state title game, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The loser of today's Juneau-Chugiak game plays at 1 p.m. Friday against the Wasilla-Service loser.
Lathrop, Homer, Dimond and Colony are in the other half of the bracket.
For complete brackets, see Monday's Empire or look on the Web at www.asaa.org.
CLASS 4A BOYS
Fresh off their first Region V title in 15 years, the Ketchikan boys will meet a powerhouse today to open state tourney play.
The Kings face the two-time defending state champion and top-ranked Bartlett Golden Bears at 5:10 p.m.
Ketchikan (15-12) brings the inside combination of junior Tyler Richardson and senior Nate Norton - who dominated the Juneau boys in last Friday's region title game - as well as the strong outside shooting of junior Jesse LeBeau.
Bartlett, the Region IV champion, is led by returning all-state senior guards Doug Hardy and Mario Chalmers. The Golden Bears are 21-2 this season, including a 6-0 record against fellow Anchorage powers East and West. Bartlett's only losses were on out-of-state trips to nationally ranked teams.
The Golden Bears beat Juneau twice this season, by scores of 89-41 and 88-61.
Other Class 4A boys tourney teams are Lathrop, Wasilla, West Anchorage, Kodiak, East Anchorage and Palmer.
For the first time all season, the Juneau girls will be carried on local radio this evening. KINY-AM 800 will broadcast the Crimson Bears' first-round state game.
Throughout the regular season, KINY chose to broadcast only the Crimson Bear boys' games, and no other local station opted to pick up girls games.
Last weekend, the Juneau girls team was the only one of the 18 basketball teams at the region tournament - Class 3A and 4A, boys and girls - to not receive broadcast coverage in its hometown. The Crimson Bears girls' Southeast title-winning victory over Petersburg received radio coverage in Petersburg and Sitka, but not in Juneau.
Juneau's Heather Dillon and Mary Rehfeld represented the Crimson Bears in Wednesday's 3-point contest preliminary round at Sullivan Arena. Neither was among the top two Class 4A girls who advanced to Saturday's finals.
In Class 4A boys competition, Ketchikan's Jesse LeBeau advanced to the finals, along with Lathrop's Shea Frazee, who set a tournament record with his shooting performance. Kayhi's John Stewart was the other Kings shooter.
The Juneau-Douglas High School cheer squad finished second to Petersburg in the coed division during the state cheerleading competition on Wednesday evening at Sullivan Arena.
Nicole Clauder and Michaela Hessee of Juneau were two of 12 cheerleaders named to the Outstanding Cheer Squad. Petersburg's Andy Marsh also made the all-star team.
Sitka cheerleaders earned second place honors in the large varsity division. The Wrangell cheer squad also competed on Wednesday.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.
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