The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team got a taste of competition with last weekend's preseason Sitka Jamboree.
Now the Crimson Bears will get a full competition meal, as they officially open their season with five matches in four days in Anchorage and on the Kenai Peninsula.
Juneau plays two-time defending state champion Service at 6:30 p.m. tonight in Anchorage, then heads to Seward for a 4 p.m. match on Thursday. The Crimson Bears play at Kenai Central High School at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. Then it's on to Skyview High School in Soldotna for two matches on Saturday, at noon against Skyview and 2:30 p.m. against Soldotna.
"We did really good in Sitka," Juneau senior outside hitter/utility player Sarah Bixby said. "Now we'll get to see where we really are."
"This trip will help us when we come back and start league play," senior outside hitter Krista Heard said. "I think we can win all of our games."
In last weekend's Sitka Jamboree -- when no team played a regulation match -- Juneau split its roster up into four squads of eight players and all four posted winning records in round-robin games. The Juneau One team went 12-0, while the Juneau Two and Juneau Three teams both went 10-4 and the Juneau Four squad (all freshmen) posted a 7-5 mark.
Service, the Crimson Bears opening match, has lost several players from last year's championship team but still looks strong. The Cougars swept defending state runner-up East Anchorage, 18-16, 15-8, 15-3, Tuesday night in a rematch of last year's Class 4A state championship match.
"They lost a lot of seniors, and we still have some of our players from last year," junior outside hitter Kelly Baxter said. "We'll see a whole new team."
"I'm completely excited, I'm stoked," senior middle blocker Morgan Zidek-Ledington said. "Our team is on a roll. Last year we were trying to find the basics, and this year we're ready to take a step up to another level."
Seward is considered a Class 3A power this year, and Tuesday it took Class 4A Soldotna to five games before dropping a 6-15, 15-12, 15-8, 9-15, 16-14 decision on Tuesday. Skyview beat Soldotna 14-16, 15-8, 15-8, 15-6 last week in its season-opener, and Soldotna was swept by Palmer over the weekend. No other early-season results were available on Juneau's competition this weekend.
Of the Kenai Peninsula teams, Skyview is the one school the Juneau players are most familiar with. Juneau played Skyview in the championship match of last year's Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza (JIVE) tournament, losing in three games after beating the Panthers in pool play earlier in the tourney. Juneau and Skyview met again at the Class 4A state tournament, with the Panthers eliminating the Crimson Bears in the consolation bracket.
Juneau may be vulnerable to an injury on this trip, since the Crimson Bears are only taking nine players. In volleyball, once a substitution is made the players involved can only return to that particular spot in the rotation for the rest of the game.
But the Crimson Bears don't believe that will be a problem.
"Playing shorter (with a smaller roster) means you learn to play more positions," Heard said. "We've gotten through injuries before."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.