The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team went to Washington last weekend to discover where they were at as a team.
After playing 32 games in three days, the Crimson Bears discovered they could hang with some of Washington's best opposition, fight through injuries and become an even closer unit.
JDHS won three-of-four matches on Thursday and Friday and then placed seventh in the 32-team Kent Classic tournament on Saturday.
"The fact we did so well we realized that we can play at any level if we put our minds to it," JDHS senior middle hitter Lesley Kalbrener said. "I think we learned a lot about ourselves, that we can do it even it we don't think we can. It showed the potential for growth as well. We adapted to the competition.
"These teams are playing all year-round, in high school and on club teams. They are so experienced, and being able to keep up with them and beat some of them is just great."
On Thursday, Kalbrener smacked down nine kills and Jillian Hahnlen added 12 kills in a 25-18, 25-14, 25-21 victory over Sunnyside High School. Later that day, an exhausted Bears team fell in four sets to Washington's West Valley.
Juneau-Douglas rebounded Friday, however, with a straight-set win over East Lake. Kalbrener posted 11 kills and Alycia Cox had 13 digs in the 25-23, 25-22, 25-16 victory.
Later on Friday, Kalbrener had 14 kills and Sarah Christianson contributed nine kills as JDHS topped Woodinville 20-25, 25-16, 26-20, 26-14.
That game also proved crucial because the Bears lost regular setter Torie Powers to a sprained ankle.
The injury thrust junior varsity player Katie Monagle into the regular rotation.
"We brought in Katie Monagle and she stepped up and did a great job," JDHS coach Sandi Wagner said. "She just stepped up and did what she needed to do. We were very pleased with the level she brought her game to."
Monagle said it was a little scary to fill in for Powers, but she played well on Friday and throughout Saturday's marathon tournament.
Monagle's emergence over the weekend gives the Crimson Bears battled tested depth that will serve them well throughout the long season.
"I was a little scared because I was afraid mistakes would be my fault," Monagle said. "But I felt more comfortable and people were really positive. We have a really close-knit team and we look at the positive instead of the negative ... and that helps me because if our team is positive it helps me feel comfortable."
Powers' injury meant some athletes played new positions
Hannah Barril, listed as 5-foot-1, played a while in the front row while Wagner said Rochele Rodman raised her game as a setter in an unfamiliar 5-1 alignment.
"We asked a lot of her and she did a great job," Wagner said of Rodman. "She stepped up and took the pressure."
On Saturday, Juneau-Douglas took a first and a second place in two rounds of pool play to qualify for bracket competition.
The Crimson Bears fell to Olympia High School but topped University to take seventh overall.
More valuable than the wins and losses Juneau-Douglas earned in Washington, however, was the information it received about themselves.
The Crimson Bears learned they can play with anybody and are deep enough to absorb injuries, but know there is still work to be done.
Wagner said the team needs to improve its defensive quickness so they can play a faster offense while Kalbrener said the team must continue improving their competitiveness.
"One goal is to stay competitive," Kalbrener said. "We have to keep that in mind. Sometimes we get in a funk and we're not able to pull out of it quickly. We need to do that before we can play these Anchorage teams."
Juneau-Douglas returns to Southeast Conference play this weekend with two matches at Sitka.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org