The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team made some history with its road trip to Anchorage and Wasilla this weekend.
The Crimson Bears have taken at least two similar road trips a year, but this was the first time Juneau came back undefeated. The Crimson Bears are 8-0 overall this season after winning all four of their matches on the road.
"I'm very pleased with the week, it was very rewarding," Juneau co-coach Dale Bontrager said by phone from Anchorage on Saturday night. "This is the first time we've even come close to winning all our matches on one of these road trips. Service was a great test for us. They (the Cougars) were a lot stronger than last year."
Juneau closed out its road trip with a 15-5, 15-1, 15-8 sweep of Dimond on Friday, then needed five games on Saturday to beat Service, 15-1, 14-16, 15-11, 9-15, 15-7. The Crimson Bears opened the road trip with three-game sweeps over Bartlett and defending Class 4A state champion Wasilla on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. All the matches were in Anchorage, except Thursday's victory over Wasilla which was in Wasilla.
The two games Juneau lost to Service were the first lost games of the year for the Crimson Bears, who won their previous seven matches in three-game sweeps. Juneau assistant coach Pat Gorman said Juneau led the second game against Service by scores of 5-1, 9-3, 12-9 and 14-13, but the Cougars stormed back at the end to win the game when Juneau's offense stalled.
"Service played mad defense," Gorman said. "They adjusted very well. Service is a smart team."
"This was really a good first test for the girls," Bontrager said. "Last year we beat Service for the first time. I'm not surprised we're undefeated, but I am pleased with how we did. These girls have incredible potential."
Amy Neussl led Juneau over Service (6-2 overall) with 26 kills and five solo blocks, while Julie Heard added 25 kills and Kelly Baxter had 17 kills. Juneau setter Callan Janowiec made 37 of her 38 services with three aces, while Nikki Bennett was a perfect 16-for-16 serving with two aces.
While most of the big stats are still being recorded by Juneau's four returners - seniors Neussl, Baxter, Janowiec and junior Heard - Bontrager said the Crimson Bears are showing more balance as a team.
"I think our balance is very good," Bontrager said. "We do have our main four, but we're nowhere without six good players on the court. Nikki (Bennett) and Alessia (Bonanno) have really done well, and Ryia (Waldern) and Karla (Dunivin) have given us a lot of depth. Megan (Treston) is doing great. Her block improved a lot on this trip."
Bontrager said the one adjustment Juneau has to make on its annual road trips north is to the quicker pace of the teams in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley area. Ketchikan and Sitka rarely move out of the slow bump-set-spike offense, so it sometimes takes Juneau a match or two to get used to the faster pace up north.
"To have the ball coming back a lot faster is a nice test," Bontrager said of Juneau's defense. "Service played outstanding defense, better than any of the other matches we played up here. They (the Cougars) struggled at times on offense, but they played good defense. We couldn't just pound away at them. We needed that type of test."
In Friday's sweep over Dimond (4-3 overall), Heard led Juneau's offense with 11 kills, while Neussl added eight kills and two solo blocks. Baxter recorded seven kills, was 16-for-17 serving with six aces and recorded a solo block. Bennett was 10-for-10 serving with one ace and 10 digs on defense.
In junior varsity action, Juneau needed five games to beat Service's JV team on Saturday, winning 5-15, 15-8, 15-4, 13-15, 17-15. On Friday, Juneau's JV team suffered its first loss of the year, losing a best-two-of-three-games match to Dimond 15-9, 13-15, 15-11.
As for Juneau, it is now one of only two undefeated Class 4A teams left in the state. Palmer is the other undefeated team, but Wasilla coach Gary Steinfort said the Moose haven't played the same caliber of competition as Juneau and Service, which won the state titles in 1997, 1999 and 2000. Gorman said Juneau's victory over Service had Service coach Virgil Hooe anointing the Crimson Bears as the team to beat in the state.
"It's kind of good news, bad news," Gorman said of the victory. "Virgil is pretty good about keeping on top of things up here, and he said this means we're No. 1, and that means everybody's gunning for us now."
Juneau hits the road again this weekend to play a pair of Region V-Class 4A matches against the Ketchikan King Salmon on Friday and Saturday at Ketchikan High School.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.