Though the Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team already has four matches under their belt, it feels as if the season is just starting.
After beating Ketchikan and Sitka twice without dropping a game, the Crimson Bears embark on a weekend journey to Washington to face larger schools Yakima and Bellevue. JDHS will also play a Saturday tournament in Kent.
"We've set a pace for ourselves," JDHS outside hitter Alycia Cox said. "But to reach a higher level of game we have to play teams that are better than us."
With their eyes clearly focused on a state championship run, the Bears are embarking on the most challenging part of its schedule.
"Anytime we can get competition it's good for us," JDHS coach Sandi Wagner said. "I have no idea what will come up for us. We could get absolutely destroyed, we may not, we have no idea what level they'll be at. These kids have been playing varsity for three years and they needed something to motivate them and we hope this will motivate them."
The Crimson Bears (4-0) know very little about the strengths and weaknesses of the teams in Washington.
Despite the unknowns, Juneau-Douglas is preparing for stiff competition.
"It's an experiment," Wagner said. "It might be something we want to do every year or something we might say, 'We're never doing this again.' I don't know. But they're excited and really pumped."
Juneau-Douglas hasn't really been challenged this season, but has used its first four matches to try out different offenses.
Great teams can beat opponents by changing the speed of the game and attacking from a variety of angles. Juneau-Douglas hopes to become one of those great teams by diversifying its attack with quicker sets and spikes and the ability to attack from all over the court.
This weekend will serve as a chance to see how far the Crimson Bears have progressed in their new attacks.
"It makes them ready for every ball," Cox said of defending a quick attack. "You should be anyway, but it's a big surprise. ... It brings the overall game up 110 percent."
With 11 seniors on the roster, the Bears are veteran enough to try out different offenses.
Middle hitters Lesley Kalbrener and Jillian Hahnlen give the Crimson Bears a dominant presence in the middle while the balance of the roster features quickness and athleticism.
Playing in Washington should serve as a solid gage of where Juneau's strengths and weaknesses lie as a team.
Winning isn't the most important mission this weekend. The Crimson Bears are using this weekend to discover where they are at as a team.
"I think we all know we can go down there and play our hardest and if we do winning will be a result, but it's not a must," Cox said. "I think we're more worried about going down there, learning about what we can do and what we're capable of and preparing for state, where winning is more important."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org