For nearly 45 minutes at practice Tuesday, the Juneau-Douglas High volleyball team ran the same drill -- bump the ball, set the ball, spike the ball -- over and over.
Fundamentals have been a big part of the Crimson Bears practice routine so far this season, and for good reason. Juneau is young and inexperienced, having graduated 10 seniors, including all six starters, from last year's team. Juneau returns just two players with any varsity time, junior middle-outside hitter Anna Capacci and senior outside hitter Angie Mill. Both split time on the varsity and junior varsity teams along with outside-middle hitter Brenna Asper-Smith and senior setter Janina Pelayo, but all got scant time on the court. The rest of the team played exclusively JV or C-Team last year.
"It's so weird just being a senior this year," said Mill, one of four seniors on the current roster. "We lost everybody. It's way different. It's going to be hard to fill last year's team's shoes."
But coaches, while saying they don't expect the current Crimson Bears to be as good as last year's team, pointed out several positives to build on.
"They're a real hungry bunch of kids," assistant coach Dale Bontrager said. "Following in the path of players that were at such a high level, I think they really want to step in and fill their shoes."
Those are some big shoes to fill. Last year, Juneau became the first team from Southeast to advance to the state championship, falling to Service in three games. The 1999 Crimson Bears finished 18-4, one of the best records in school history, and won Juneau's 10th Region V title in the past 12 years. Six-foot middle-hitter Anya Carlson-Van Dort is now a redshirt freshman at the University of Wisconsin. Also gone is power-hitter Kannani Pavitt, experienced setter Erin Mesdag, back-row specialist MaryAnn Moffet and middle hitter Jenny McCallon. Bontrager pointed out that coaching strategies have shifted with the younger, less-experienced crop of players.
"We're asking a lot more of their intelligence," Bontrager said. "Right now, we're not a real powerhouse team. We're asking them to have a lot of control. Last year we could really bowl people over, so we didn't focus so much on precise ball placement. It wasn't quite as much variety as I'm hoping these kids will have."
As the setter, Pelayo will have a lot of responsibility for that ball movement.
"Our team has stepped up and worked on fundamentals," Pelayo said. "We've worked on control instead of just power."
The 5-foot-6 inch-Pelayo, who is a senior in academic credits but who has been in school just three years, said the team learned a lot during the Southeast Jamboree at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School last weekend, where Juneau finished with an 8-4 record.
"We're a young team, and we haven't really all played together," Pelayo said. "(At the Jamboree) we finally played as a team."
At the Jamboree, Juneau dropped two games to Colony on Friday, then fell 15-11, 14-16, 15-11 to the Knights Saturday. Ketchikan, Sitka, Craig and Haines also participated in the tournament.
"We did a lot better than I expected," said Capacci, who received probably the most varsity time last year of any player. "I thought they were going to kill us."
The Crimson Bears open their season against Lathrop Thursday in Fairbanks, then play in an eight-team tournament that includes Eielson, Wasilla, Valdez, West Valley, East Anchorage, Delta Junction and host North Pole on Friday and Saturday. Juneau opens the tourney against West Valley Friday at noon.
Capacci was excited at getting the season underway.
"I'm excited because it's a challenge. It gives us something to work for," Capacci said. "I'd like us to grow because next year we'll have a lot of experience coming back."