The Juneau volleyball team was excited to get back on the court this weekend - maybe a bit too excited.
The Crimson Bears committed 18 unforced errors in the first game, but regained their composure Friday to claim a 24-26, 25-15, 26-24, 25-19 victory over a tough Ketchikan squad in the regular-season-opening match for both teams at Juneau-Douglas High School.
Juneau followed a similar pattern on Saturday, winning 23-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-20 to complete the weekend sweep.
"Nerves were certainly a factor in the first game," junior middle blocker Lesley Kalbrener said of Friday's match. "Luckily, we were able to pull it together and finish it off."
"We relaxed throughout the game and got into our groove," said Megan Treston, a senior middle/outside hitter who, due to an injury, was playing her first match in more than 18 months. She had the first kill of Friday's first game.
Juneau has had its way with Ketchikan in recent years, winning 17 of 18 games against the Kings the last two seasons. But this year's Ketchikan squad stepped up to beat Juneau at last weekend's preseason Jamboree tourney, and played with confidence against the Crimson Bears this weekend.
"They get to all the places where we're not covering, and they have really hard hits," Treston said. "They're a really great team."
But Juneau remains a strong team, and the Crimson Bears (2-0 Southeast and overall) took an early lead in the region standings with the sweep.
After dropping Friday's error-plagued first game, the Crimson Bears built a comfortable lead on the way to an easy victory in the second game. In the third game - after building a 24-19 lead, only to see Ketchikan fend off five game points for a 24-all tie - Juneau stayed calm and scored the last two points on a Kalbrener kill and a Kayhi error.
Kalbrener made a memorable play for Juneau early in that third game while trying to save an errant pass. She volleyed the ball over her head while running off the back of the court, and the no-look lob fell just inside Ketchikan's back line for a Juneau point, and a cheer from the crowd.
Juneau and Ketchikan were tied at 19-all in the fourth game before the Crimson Bears scored six straight points for the win and the match, capped by a kill by junior Sara Manning.
Kalbrener and fellow junior Jillian Hahnlen had 12 kills apiece in Friday's match, and Manning added eight kills and seven digs. Senior Amber Johnson had 10 digs and four kills. Juniors Alycia Cox and Torie Powers each had four aces while serving.
On Saturday, Ketchikan took the early edge by winning a see-saw first game that had 12 ties. Key kills from Tiffany Alba, Laura West and Larissa Otness powered the Kings, who knotted the game at 23-all, then won on two Juneau errors.
Juneau had to rally from early deficits - 6-3, 8-4 and 6-2 - for wins in each of the final three games.
"We started out a little weak, but we picked up the intensity and played our hardest," said junior Rochele Rodman, who had a number of good sets to aid Juneau attacks in the final few games.
Hahnlen and Kalbrener had 14 kills apiece in the match, while Manning added 10, along with 15 digs. Johnson also had 15 digs, while Cox and Rodman added nine apiece and junior Hannah Barril had six.
In both matches, the tall Juneau squad put its height to use. Kalbrener, Hahnlen, Manning and senior Bianca Carpeneti - all 5-foot-10 or taller - got in on blocks.
"We played better than we did last weekend," Juneau coach Sandi Wagner said. "The kids showed me a lot of heart and a lot of competitiveness."
However, Wagner said, the team will have to work on quelling its unforced errors as it prepares for a trip north later this week, and for a rematch with the Kings at Ketchikan on Sept. 24-25.
"Ketchikan has the best team they've had in years," she said. "They've got a lot of athletic ability, and they're using it."
Kayhi coach Naomi Michalsen said there's one key factor in the early success of this year's Kings' team.
"It's having the same team," she said. "We've always had a totally new team each year. This year we have a lot of players who were with us last year (and) they've bonded a little better.
"I feel like this is going to be a great season, very competitive. It makes it much more fun to watch, and much more fun to play."
On Saturday, Juneau's JV team beat Ketchikan 25-9, 25-15, 25-12. The Kings C team beat the Crimson Bears in five sets, 25-21, 15-25, 26-24, 21-25, 25-17. Scores were not available from Friday's JV and C team matches.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.