Wacky weather forced the Juneau-Douglas High School softball team to practice and play with the work ethic of the U.S. Postal Service.
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Neither wind, rain, sleet nor snow kept the Crimson Bears from posting another successful year and another trip to the state tournament. JDHS (15-1) will take on Bartlett at noon today in Anchorage in the Alaska School Activities Association State Softball Tournament first-round.
"It was weird not playing as many games," senior Andrea Doerflinger said. "It felt like our season was a lot shorter."
Record-setting snowfall in Juneau delayed opening day at Melvin Park by two weeks while a mid-season road trip forced the Bears to play eight games in four days.
Wild weather not withstanding, Juneau-Douglas continued its legacy of success. The team scored more than 10 runs in 10 games this season.
"We're used to a crazy schedule," infielder Nethia Lavering said.
State softball tournament
Who? Railbelt Conference No. 2 JDHS vs. Cook Inlet Conference No. 3 Bartlett.
What? Alaska School Activities Association State Softball Tournament quarterfinal game.
Where? Cartee Fields in Anchorage.
When? noon today.
What's at stake? Today's winner will play the winner of Chugiak or Lathrop at 4 p.m. today. The loser will play at 2 p.m. today.
A source of strength for the team has been an experienced and productive senior class.
Doerflinger, Madison Massey, Sammy Roguska, Tara Hansen, Taelyn Coffee and Kayla Jannell have been with the program since their freshman years. The Bears won the 2004 and 2005 state titles and finished second last season after winning 20 consecutive games.
"I've been playing with her since I was 9," Doerflinger said as she motioned towards Massey.
"We played before that in T-ball," Massey added.
Doerflinger serves as the team's top pitcher throughout the season while Massey and Carrie Laliberte have provided quality innings as well.
Massey, Roguska and Hansen all boast a rare combination of power and speed that makes them extremely dangerous. Their ability to not only get on base, but pressure a defense by stealing bags and taking extra bases can lead to runs in bunches.
Coffee is one of Juneau's top all-around athletes, able to play a variety of positions and use her speed to generate runs.
While Jannell has missed the season due to a snowboarding injury, she's been an invaluable member of the team throughout her tenure. She helped get JDHS to the finals in her junior year.
Players such as Nicole Fenumiai, Cortney Wagner, Lii Levale, Darby Brown and Annie Hegar also contributed throughout the season. Fenumiai, Levale, Brown and Hegar all boast power while Wagner has played a solid third base all year.
Lavering's defensive hustle and powerful bat gives JDHS yet another weapon.
Despite the roster of talent, what's also important is how the team interacts with each other.
"It's been great," Laliberte said. "We don't have to worry about that cattiness. Especially for the pitchers. If someone makes a mistake, we can just flush it."
A strong, unified team can be crucial during the state tournament where a team may be forced to play as many as five games in one day.
"First off, you want to win and stay out of the loser's bracket if possible," coach Dave Massey said. "If you can do that, that's a big step in the right direction."
JDHS faces the Golden Bears today. The two teams tangled in the first round last year with the Crimson Bears winning 6-3.
If Juneau downs Bartlett, it could set up an intriguing match-up with Cook Inlet Conference champions Chugiak later that day. The Mustangs boast Gatorade Player of the Year, catcher Joanna Schultz, and won 14 of 15 games this year. Chugiak will face Lathrop at noon today.
That second round game could be the difference between a normal or very long Saturday. The winner will advance to the semifinals, while defeat will resign the team to the loser's bracket, where it must win five straight games Saturday to take home a state title.
With graduation already done and gone, this weekend also represents the final high school outing for the team. For the seniors, it's also the last gasp of high school life.
Win or lose, this weekend marks the end of a terrific season.
"I've cried for two months already," Roguska said with a laugh. "It'll be really emotional when it's over. It's been a part of my life forever."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.