The players on the age 17-18 girls softball team from Juneau's Midnight Suns Fastpitch Softball Association have won several championships over the years. This weekend they will try to add a national title to their collection.
The Midnight Suns opened play this morning in the National Fastpitch Softball Association's National Championship Tournament in Salem, Ore., playing an Oregon team called Illusions. Juneau plays the Northwest Thunder of Washington on Friday to complete pool-play, then will be seeded into an 18-team double-elimination bracket to decide final placings.
"The core of this group has been playing together since Majors (Little League, for age 11-12), and they've won a lot of state championships along the way," Midnight Suns coach Tim Adair said. "They won two titles as Majors, one as Seniors (age 13-16 at the time, now age 15-16) and one in high school."
Competing for the Midnight Suns, this same group of players also has won two tournaments at the Wallace Sports Complex venue of this weekend's national tourney. Earlier this month, the Midnight Suns won a Fourth of July Classic tournament in Salem the hosts named after the Juneau team, which also won the tournament in 2000. The Midnight Suns qualified as the Alaska representative for the national tournament by finishing better than a Fairbanks squad at the July Fourth tourney.
"This team is pretty together," Juneau pitcher Nicole Adair said. "It's a really close team, and that makes a difference. Winning in Salem I think took some of the nerves away. I think we're ready for it."
Since winning the Salem tournament early this month, the Midnight Suns haven't seen much action. And, since it's Juneau's first trip to the national tournament, some of the players are still feeling the jitters.
"We've kind of had two practices, I think that's it," Juneau infielder Jenny Ahlgren said.
"I think we're playing some of the same teams we saw before," Juneau outfielder Krista Staveland said. "We practiced a couple of times. I'm kind of nervous."
The Midnight Suns roster features eight players from this year's Juneau-Douglas High School team that finished third at state -- Staveland, Ahlgren, Nicole Adair, Hilary Turner, Kari Parr, Suzanne Parr, Kynde Baun and Andrea 'Rae' Walker . Plus it has one former Crimson Bear in MaryAnn Moffet, who is now in college, and three players from Ketchikan in Zeta Moss, Savanah Stewart and Tara Potts, a former JDHS player.
"The experience will be different for them, I think," Tim Adair said. "Playing on the same fields will help them out. We've been able to practice here and there, but our last games were in Salem. They needed a break."
After this weekend's national tournament, the Midnight Suns will head to Hawaii for the Kauai Garden Classic, a 23-team tournament that opens on Aug. 2. The Midnight Suns went to the tournament last year, taking fourth place out of eight teams.
The Hawaii tournament will have a more national field than the national tournament in Salem, which has a field that's entirely from the Pacific Northwest (eight teams from Oregon, four from Washington, two from Idaho, and one each from Alaska, Arizona, California and British Columbia). The field in the Hawaii tournament has seven teams from Colorado, four from Hawaii, three from California, two from Iowa, two from Washington, and one each from Ohio, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Alaska.
Juneau opens play on Thursday, Aug. 2, with two round-robin pool-play games against Most Wanted of Colorado and The Devils of New Jersey. On Friday, Aug. 3, the Midnight Suns play Native Girls of Hawaii and Stars of Colorado. A single-elimination bracket starts on Saturday, Aug. 4, with the seeding determined by the round-robin pool-play.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.