The Juneau-Douglas High School softball team is heading north to see its future.
The Crimson Bears will make their first trip to Fairbanks to play a series of six games Wednesday through Friday against the six teams in the Fairbanks-based Mid-Alaska Conference. If Juneau does well on this trip, it could help the Crimson Bears book a return trip to the state tournament June 5-6 in Fairbanks.
"We're just excited to play new teams," Juneau senior first baseman-outfielder Danielle Larson said. "We want to test the fields out in Fairbanks, we've never been up there before. I think we played West Valley, but that's the only team."
"We don't really know what to expect," Juneau junior third baseman-outfielder Rachel Barril said. "We've never been to Fairbanks, but it's fun to play new teams."
The defending state champion Crimson Bears will open the week on Wednesday with a 5 p.m. game against Delta Junction and a 7 p.m. game against Lathrop, with both games at the Interior Girls Softball Association fields in downtown Fairbanks.
On Thursday, Juneau plays at West Valley High School at 5 p.m. and against North Pole at 7 p.m. at the IGSA fields. The road trip concludes on Friday with a 3 p.m. game at Eielson High School and against Monroe Catholic at 7 p.m. at the IGSA fields.
The Crimson Bears struggled against a strong Sitka team during their season-opening weekend two weeks ago, losing the first two games by one run each (2-1 and 8-7, with the winning runs in each game being scored in the bottom of the seventh inning). Juneau won the finale 16-2 and takes a 1-2 record to Fairbanks.
"We weren't hitting as good as we normally do," junior outfielder Dana Flansaas said. "We were starting to play more as a team as the series went on. I think we're getting the hang of it."
Many of the problems in Sitka could be attributed to roster turnover, since all but three of Juneau's 12 varsity players are freshmen or sophomores. Even though the younger players all have a lot of softball experience - everybody on Juneau's varsity roster has played on at least one state-champion Gastineau Channel Little League all-star team - many of them were making their high school debuts.
"It was definitely a nerve-wracking experience," freshman outfielder-pitcher Alycia Cox said. "Now we know more about the competition. I don't think we had the focus we needed at the beginning of the games."
"We're pretty sure we can do a lot better than we did in Sitka," freshman pitcher-second baseman-outfielder Torie Powers said. "We didn't expect them to be as good as they were. We've had a lot more time to practice, too."
The nice weather this past week has helped give the Juneau players more time on the softball diamond, which should help the team gel. The wind and rain before the Sitka trip two weeks ago kept the Crimson Bears off the fields and forced them indoors for practice, so the players still didn't feel comfortable with each other when they got to Sitka.
"We needed more practice, we'd only had two or three outdoor practices before we went," Flansaas said.
"We definitely have the parts, we just need to put them together," Larson said. "We'll be better this time."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.