When the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team beat Service in a thrilling state championship game earlier this month, the see-saw nature of the match was fitting.
As in the title game, the Crimson Bears experienced a full season of ups and downs, of spectacular plays and costly mistakes, of memorable wins and soul-searching losses. But in the end, Juneau emerged with the team's first state crown since 1996 and third overall.
The state title game on April 2 mirrored the season. It began with a struggle through the first quarter:
Service takes a 6-2 lead midway through the opening period, but Juneau scores the last seven points of the quarter - keyed by a 3-pointer from junior Lexi Garvey - to take an 11-9 advantage after one.
Juneau opened its season with a memorable game against powerful Chugiak in December at the Capital City Classic. The Crimson Bears led by four points at halftime, but the Mustangs rebounded - thanks to superior boardwork - to claim a 60-55 win. But Juneau won its final two Classic games against North Kitsap (Poulsbo, Wash.) and Nathan Hale (Seattle) and emerged from the tournament with a 2-1 season record.
Service's Lillian Bullock and Sarah Jones convert back-to-back three-point plays to put the Cougars ahead 18-14 with 4:29 to play in the second quarter.
After a pair of wins at home against Bartlett, the Crimson Bears made their first trip of the season in mid-January with a swing through Anchorage. Juneau played tough, but finished 1-3 on the trip with a victory over North Pole and narrow losses to Service, East Anchorage and Chugiak. Two of those losses went into overtime.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Garvey in the closing minutes of the first half lift the Crimson Bears to a 24-22 lead at halftime of the state title game.
Juneau returned to Southeast and proceeded to roll to six straight wins - twice over Ketchikan at home, twice over Sitka on the road, and twice over Colony for homecoming. Among the highlights was a shot from beyond halfcourt that Juneau sophomore Talisa Rhea banked in at the halftime buzzer of the second Colony game.
Service goes on a 7-0 run over the final two minutes of the third quarter, taking a 36-33 lead heading into the final period.
The Crimson Bears hit a rough patch in the latter part of the season when they took a trip north to Fairbanks. Juneau went 1-2 on that trip, including a one-point loss to North Pole - a team they defeated by 30 points earlier in the season. The Crimson Bears also lost to Lathrop by 10, and beat West Valley by 20.
Juneau seemed sluggish on the trip, and the players lacked fire when they stepped on the court.
"You can't come out lackadaisical and expect to win a game," Juneau coach Lesslie Knight said at the time.
Juneau senior Mary Rehfeld sinks a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter, tying the game at 36-all. Freshman Nicole Fenumiai hits a free throw to put Juneau up 37-36 with 6:33 to play.
Juneau closed out the regular season with four straight wins over region rivals Ketchikan and Sitka, capping a perfect 8-0 record in conference play.
"We had better leadership and better attitude," Knight said on Feb. 26 after the Ketchikan wins. "We're getting mentally stronger."
Service's Sylvia Bullock hits a shot, and Lillian Bullock makes two free throws to give the Cougars a 40-37 edge with 5:25 remaining in the championship game.
The Crimson Bears continued to win at the Southeast Conference tourney in Juneau, but it wasn't easy.
With a state tournament berth on the line, Juneau led by just one point at halftime of the Class 4A girls final against Ketchikan. But the Crimson Bears went on an 11-0 run to start the second half, won 63-50 and earned a return trip to state.
In the traditional Southeast 3A-4A crossover game, tenacious Mount Edgecumbe led by as many as 10 points in the second half before Juneau pulled ahead and away in the fourth quarter for a 56-44 win.
Rehfeld hits another 3-pointer to tie the game at 40-all with 4:41 to play. Garvey hits one of two free throws 36 seconds later to put Juneau ahead 41-40.
Juneau opened the state tournament against North Pole - the team who handed them that disappointing late-season loss in Fairbanks. There was no letdown this time, as the Crimson Bears cruised to a 54-38 win.
"Everyone really stepped up - they knew what had to happen," Rehfeld said after the victory.
Senior Ashley Larson scores on a twirling layup from under the basket, then hits a free throw to complete the three-point play and give Juneau a 44-40 lead with 3:44 remaining. Rhea scores four straight points to put the Crimson Bears up 48-42 with 2:49 to play, and Juneau - with all the momentum - maintains its edge to win the state title.
And so the game and the season converged, with the Crimson Bears hitting their stride at the most opportune time. Juneau crushed top-ranked Chugiak in the semifinals, winning 47-32, and then defeated Service 53-48 in the championship game.
"It was a hard road, but they came together at the end, and what more can you ask for?" Knight said after Juneau won the title. "That's what you want, for the team to peak at the end."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.