The Juneau-Douglas High School girls softball team will be looking for a return to glory this year as the Crimson Bears try to reclaim the state championship it won two seasons ago.
The Crimson Bears, who went 17-6 last season but were eliminated early from the state tournament, open their season this weekend when they travel to Ketchikan for four varsity games today and Saturday at Ketchikan High School's Upper Dudley Field. Last year's 1-2 performance at the state tournament was Juneau's earliest exit in the tournament's five years.
Juneau's varsity team plays Sitka at 2 p.m. today and plays Ketchikan at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, Juneau plays Sitka at 10 a.m. and Ketchikan at noon. In other varsity action, Ketchikan plays Sitka at 4:30 p.m. tonight, while a varsity team from Prince of Wales Island (a composite team from Craig and Klawock) will play a combined varsity/JV team from Sitka and the other schools' JV teams. Juneau's JV teams will get as many as seven games in on Thursday, today and Saturday.
"We've got a chance to play some games," Juneau senior Hilary Turner said after Wednesday afternoon's practice. "I think the team looks pretty solid."
Juneau will feature the return of Kari Monagle to the head coaching spot after a two-year layoff. Monagle, who coached the Crimson Bears for the first seven years of their existence, took Juneau to back-to-back state runner-up finishes in 1997 and 1998. She said she's excited to be back at the helm as Juneau starts its 10th season of softball. Monagle replaces Steve Walker, who served as head coach for two seasons.
"It's always nice working with the girls," Monagle said. "It (coaching) is a big time commitment, but one of the things I missed was working with the girls. From the top players on down, they've all made the same time commitment. I think we'll be a strong team. We've got a lot of good returning players who are experienced in tight games, and we've got some good underclassmen."
Monagle said her varsity roster right now includes Turner in centerfield, senior pitcher/first baseman Nicole Adair, senior second baseman Jenny Ahlgren, junior pitcher/outfielder Andrea Walker, junior third baseman/outfielder Kynde Baun, junior rightfielder Krista Staveland, junior shortstop Kari Parr, junior catcher Suzanne Parr, sophomore first baseman/outfielder Danielle Larson, sophomore pitcher/first baseman Stephanie Heard, freshman third baseman/outfielder Rachel Barril and freshman utility player Julie Heard.
She has 25 players between the varsity and junior varsity rosters, and some of the JV players could push the varsity players by the end of the season.
"I think we're looking pretty good," Kari Parr said. "We've got some pitching, and all our defense spots are filled."
"We're a younger team," Adair said.
Besides Monagle, Juneau sports an experienced brain trust with assistant coaches Dave Massey, Tim Adair, JV coach Jana Heard and Scott Marshall. Massey served as co-coach with Walker last year and also runs the Midnight Suns softball program, which takes the girls on preseason trips and gives them summer competition to keep their skills sharp. The Midnight Suns program took several players to Surrey, British Columbia, for some games before the high school season started, but Nicole Adair said many of the games ended up being rained out.
Monagle said the Midnight Suns program and the local Little League program have both done excellent jobs in preparing young players for the high school softball team. The younger players are much further along in skill than some of her older teams.
"The kids coming in as freshmen would have started on the teams I had a few years ago," Monagle said. "The Midnight Suns and Little League coaches have all been exposed to the style we play."
Juneau's toughest region competition will most likely come from Ketchikan, which features an experienced senior pitcher in Aleisha Filyaw, who has been getting several looks from colleges on the East Coast since her junior season.
But Suzanne Parr said Ketchikan has a younger pitcher in sophomore Tara Potts who is very familiar with the Juneau hitters. Potts played at Juneau last year, but moved to Ketchikan this year.
"We have a senior, junior and a couple of sophomore pitchers," Monagle said. "I think we'll do fine. The people who are out this year are hardworking, and they're coachable."
Besides this weekend's trip to Ketchikan, Juneau's schedule includes a trip to Sitka on April 20-21 and a four-day trip to Anchorage May 2-5. The Crimson Bears close out the regular season with their only home games on May 11-12 at Melvin Park (off Riverside Drive). The state softball tournament is May 18-19 at Anchorage's Cartee Fields.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.