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OPEN ATMOSPHERE greets JDHS volleyball players

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2007

About 50 new volleyball players jammed into the Juneau-Douglas High School gym during a practice Aug. 8.

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One of the Crimson Bears' three coaches, Dale Bontrager, demonstrated how to properly set the ball as the young athletes eagerly soaked in the information.

For nearly ever single JDHS volleyball player, from rookie to veteran, these opening days are best explained as Volleyball 101. The coaches go over basics of hitting and footwork while all the players soak up the information.

JDHS Volleyball Schedule

• Aug. 24-25: JUNEAU JAMBOREE.

• Aug. 31-Sept. 1: at Sitka*.

• Sept. 7-8: at Ketchikan*.

• Sept. 13-15: at Washington state.

• Sept. 21-22: SITKA*.

• Oct. 5-6: JUNEAU INVITATIONAL VOLLEYBALL EXTRAVAGANZA.

• Oct. 18: at Service.

• Oct. 19-20: at Service/Dimond Tournament.

• Oct. 26-27: KETCHIKAN*.

• Nov. 1-3: at Southeast Conference in Petersburg.

• Nov. 8-10: at State Championships in Anchorage.

(Note: Home games in CAPS; * Southeast Conference games)

"I just wanted to try something new," junior and first-time player Clarissa Cabrigas said. "I thought it was just going to be a few of us, but it's a lot of people. It's a surprise."

While scheduling practices for more than 70 players of varying degrees of ability can be daunting, accepting everyone without reservation is at the core of what JDHS volleyball is about.

The Crimson Bears don't cut anyone. All players need is a pair of sneakers and the willingness to work.

"It's really cool how there's no cuts on the team and everyone is able to be part of it no matter what skill level you're at," senior Susana Hurtte said.

Bontrager, along with coaches Sandi Wagner and Pat Gorman, have been with the Bears for more than 20 years.

The no-cut policy has been in effect for all but one year - the coaches' second season in Juneau. Wagner said that was the one and only time they cut players.

She said she cut athletes that could've been players.

It takes unique ability to play volleyball, something that has to be taught and cultivated.

"Volleyball is a little different when you think about it, because you don't grow up passing a ball or setting a ball or serving a ball. You grow up throwing, hitting, catching and kicking. So soccer, baseball, those kind of sports, you've been doing those skills all your life so you have an idea if you can do those skills.

"(With volleyball) You have no idea because these kids have never done it before."

The Bears' open environment also gives players the chance to learn and pick up the skills at their own pace.

Senior Kristen Pratt started playing her freshman year.

She started playing because she thought it'd be fun. Now she'll probably be a member of the varsity team.

"The first two years I wasn't really playing to be competitive, I was just doing it for fun," she said. "Then I kind of decided I want more out of it."

In addition to improving as a player, one of the most important things young athletes get from the volleyball program is how to be assertive and talkative.

Almost all successful volleyball teams pride themselves on their on-court communication and off-court encouragement.

Learning how to speak up and be mindful of everyone else's role on the team, however, can take time.

"You have to communicate a lot," senior Gloria Lumba said. "There's a lot of talking going on. It's really big for teamwork and it involves a lot. You have to be mindful, be aware of everyone around you. You can't just be focusing on yourself."

This year's version of the Crimson Bears' varsity team is yet to be known.

Only three players return with any previous varsity experience while a number of players went to the University of Washington for a volleyball camp in July.

"We went over passing, setting," senior Cortney Wagner said. "We did a lot of good hitting and serving. We changed the fundamentals of that so it makes it easier and keeps it simple."

It's too early to tell exactly who will make the varsity and how they might do against Southeast Conference foes Sitka and Ketchikan. However, the players do know the basics and are ready for competition.

"This year we have about 25 people competing for a varsity spot," senior Hailey Summers said. "It'll be pretty rough to get a varsity spot so everyday you have to try your hardest."

Whether a player wants to become a varsity player, or just try something new, the JDHS volleyball team will be there for her.

While winning is nice, the thrill of trying something new and sticking with it can be just as rewarding.

"I want to be a better volleyball player, I guess, and try some new things like soccer," Cabrigas said. "I'm going to try it."

• Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or sports@juneauempire.com.



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