Juneau-Douglas High School senior and girls basketball team forward Kerstin Kimlinger remembers winning a state championship last year.
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She also knows what that title meant to the seniors on the Crimson Bears' 2005 championship squad.
Now Kimlinger is a part of a strong five-person senior class and would love to go out the same way as those seniors did last season.
"It was cool last year because we won state," Kimlinger said. "It makes me want to win this year."
JDHS (21-3), the state's top-ranked team, will get its chance at 11:20 a.m. Wednesday when it opens the state tournament against Homer at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena in a quarterfinal matchup.
The winner will then take on either Dimond or Colony on Friday.
The Mariners (12-8) pose a dilemma JDHS has dealt with seemingly all season. Homer boasts a strong center who can score in 6-foot-2 Reba Temple.
In the Crimson Bears' three defeats this season, two of them came against teams with strong post players. Both Dimond and Service exerted their strength inside to rack up offensive boards and points on second-chance opportunities.
To combat that, JDHS knew it must protect the glass and talk more on defense. By communicating on the defensive end, the team knew where their opponents were at all times and didn't allow anyone to get behind them for easy buckets.
"We're just excited to play and anxious," JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said. "The thing we know is that regardless of what the other team is doing, we have some fundamental things for us to do to be successful. One is position defense, talking and communicating."
The weeks of preparation appeared to have paid off in last weekend's win over Sitka in the Southeast Conference championship game.
The Bears limited Wolves center Kim Dodson to just four points and six rebounds in the game. JDHS shutout Dodson in the first half.
"We talked, we boxed out," Kimlinger said. "Talking is probably our biggest issue this year. We kind of pulled it together. I think that was the best game we played."
In addition to figuring out a winning defensive formula, the natural pressure of postseason basketball forced the Bears to increase their intensity.
As defending state champs with two straight state finals appearances under, the team knows how to play when the stakes are the highest.
"We talked more than we have this entire year, so that helped us out a lot," Bears sophomore center Nicole Fenumiai said. "That and we knew that if we didn't win, we wouldn't be going to state again and we really wanted to. So we had to dig deep and do what we were able to do."
In addition to facing a big post player, coach Knight believes Homer will try to disrupt her team with full-court pressure.
Facing a full-court press will force point guard Talisa Rhea to make correct decisions passing and force wing players like Kimlinger, Jordan Harvey, Lexi Garvey and Sophia Smith to get open with strong cuts.
"They tend to full-court press and it's always a challenge for other team to full-court press us," Knight said. "We've got players able to make some good passes."
Tim Nichols, sports editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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