The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team officially opened its season Wednesday by creating some team history.
The Crimson Bears rallied back from a 9-3 deficit in the fifth and final game to defeat the two-time defending Class 4A state champion Service Cougars, 15-10, 15-12, 7-15, 11-15, 15-10, in a 2 1/2-hour match at Service High School in Anchorage. According to Juneau co-coach Dale Bontrager, who has been with the team for 15 years, the victory is Juneau's first over Service in a regulation, best-three-of-five-games match.
"That's the first time we've ever beat Service in a match," Bontrager said. "We've taken a game or two from them before, but never a match. If you look back, Service has probably won about 40 percent of the state's (volleyball) titles."
Bontrager and co-coach Pat Gorman said Juneau didn't have a particularly strong offense, but the Crimson Bears were able to mix things up and keep Service off balance. Service coach Virgil Hooe said Juneau's defense was also strong, and Juneau's experience this year was an advantage over the Cougars.
"They didn't give up on anything and there were not many hitting errors by Juneau," Hooe said. "We saw them spread things out, and there were not many passing errors by them. They have a legitimate shot at the state tournament. I'd put Juneau in the top four right now."
"It was probably our defense that was what won it for us," Bontrager said. "Our first two games were excellent, then we had a little lull in the third and fourth games. Service had a 9-3 lead in the fifth game, but our kids decided to get serious and they covered everything on defense. Our experience definitely showed in the fifth game, and we didn't give up."
Amy Neussl notched 11 kills, four solo blocks, three block assists, six service aces and 16 digs to lead the Crimson Bears. Anna Capacci added 10 kills and 15 digs, while Brenna Asper-Smith had 10 kills, Morgan Zidek-Ledington served four aces and Callan Janowiec served three aces.
"It was awesome, everyone was so pumped," said Neussl, who served an ace and another point to close out the match. "We were down like 9-6 and we decided we can do this. Yeah, we got the win, but we also got the come-from-behind win."
"I was so excited," said Capacci, a senior who was on the bench when Juneau lost the state championship match two years ago to Service. "I thought if we could beat Service that would make my year, with all the work we've put in. Service is always well-coached and they're still a good team. We were down three points and we decided we're not going to lose it."
Gorman, who kept stats for Juneau, said different players stepped up at times for the Crimson Bears, who served 90 percent as a team and also only made 16 passing errors in 140 attempts.
Zidek-Ledington made 11 of 12 serves with three aces in the fifth game, with Juneau recording 10 of its 15 points when she was at the service line. Capacci was 9-for-9 serving with two aces in the second game, Neussl was 8-for-8 with three aces in the fourth game, while Janowiec was 5-for-5 with an ace and Julie Heard was 6-for-6 in the first game.
"I was really proud of our team," Janowiec said. "It's historic for us to beat Service. It's amazing. It's a great way for us to start off the season, and to carry us through the rest of the year."
Juneau plays at Seward today.