The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball teams knows they won't lack for physical ability or big-game experience.
What the team needs to improve, however, might be one of the hardest things in sports to quantify.
"We've got some work to do on our mental game," JDHS co-coach Dale Bontrager said. "But in terms of physical talent and experience, we are very solid."
The Crimson Bears return eight players from last year's squad that captured fifth place at the state championship.
Juneau-Douglas boasts a pair of 6-footers in the middle hitter position as seniors Jillian Hahnlen and Lesley Kalbrener return.
Alycia Cox will play on the outside while Torie Powers and Rochele Rodman figure to split time at setter.
Bears junior Sarah Christianson returns as an outside hitter and will be joined by senior Sara Manning.
Hannah Barril will serve as Juneau's defensive specialist.
The coaches also plan on adding a few more fresh faces to round out the squad.
"Physically we should be fairly well," JDHS co-coach Sandi Wagner said. "Consistency is one of the things we're going to focus on and one of the things that hurt us most last yea is consistency and the ability to win under any circumstances. Those are the things we're focusing on."
One component of the team that shouldn't need much work is chemistry and camaraderie.
With eight returnees, the team knows each others' strengths and consider themselves a tight family.
"We're all friends, we all hang out during and after school, we all play different spots together," Powers said. "We've been together since our freshman year on the 'C' team and then on varsity. It's the exact same group of girls. We're more than friends, we're family."
In attempt to further strengthen their competitive and mental muscles, Wagner created a difficult schedule designed to put her team through an arduous season.
The Crimson Bears will travel to Washington this September to play a trio of teams. They will also hike up north to take on Colony and play in the Service/Dimond Tournament in October.
"I think we're really excited about that because that's what we need," Powers said. "We have everything we need to win state this year and we're one of the top teams this year and it's going to be exciting to see how we do against the teams down south."
In addition to a challenging schedule, Wagner plans on scrimmaging more this season to provide her players with more game experience.
In addition to on-the-court drills, the team will also do team-building exercises to help foster the unity which is vital in the emotional game of volleyball.
"There's no time when you can stop and hold on to the ball," Bontrager said. "Everything is emotional. We've got kids that just have phenomenal physical talent. Now it's just a matter of believing in themselves and believing in each other."
JDHS starts play Aug. 26-27 by hosting the exhibition Jamboree. The regular season kicks off Sept. 2-3 with games against visiting Sitka.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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