The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team could have been depressed about its weekend road trip to Anchorage and Homer, a journey that saw the Crimson Bears lose their first matches since the 2001 season.
Instead, the Crimson Bears were looking at the positives from their first trip north of the season.
The Crimson Bears have a young team, and most of the players were making their first trip outside the Region V comfort zone. Juneau never was more than a few points away from winning the games it lost.
"If you look at the scores, they were 24-26, 23-25. We were right in there," said senior outside hitter Julie Heard, the lone returning starter from last year's undefeated state championship team and one of just two returning varsity players.
Juneau closed out the trip by losing in four games to the Bartlett Golden Bears in Saturday's championship match of the two-day Peninsula Challenge 2003 in Homer, reversing the results of last year's Class 4A state tournament title match. Bartlett won 25-21, 25-19, 19-25, 25-21 as Nikki Moss earned tournament MVP honors and three other Golden Bears made the all-tournament team.
Still, the Juneau players were feeling pretty good about their progress.
"I'm really excited; we came a long ways," said Heard, who was joined by junior outside hitter Karla Dunivin and sophomore setter Rochele Rodman as Juneau had three players make the all-tournament team. "The girls played amazing. We really came together."
"I think we improved a lot," said Dunivin, Juneau's other varsity returner. "It was good experience for the new girls, just to see how the game can be played. It was definitely an eye-opener for them, but they stepped up."
Juneau opened the trip on Thursday with a pair of losses - one to Dimond, the other to West Anchorage. On Friday, Juneau opened the Peninsula Challenge by posting a 4-1 record in best-of-three mini-matches to earn the top seed after the round-robin portion of the six-team tournament. Juneau won the top seed in a tie-breaker with Homer and Bartlett, which also posted 4-1 records.
The Crimson Bears opened the double-elimination bracket portion of the tournament by beating Soldotna 25-15, 25-16. Juneau dropped to the losers' bracket portion with a 25-22, 17-25, 15-11 loss to Bartlett, but beat Homer 15-25, 25-23, 15-11 to earn a spot in the championship match.
"It was my first varsity trip north," junior outside hitter Amber Johnson said. "There's a lot more competition up here than a lot of us are used to. We all played exceptionally well. It just shows us what we need to work on."
"We did a lot better than we might have expected," sophomore setter Torie Powers said. "We started playing together and we got where we needed to be. We did a good job. It was tough competition and we'll use it against Ketchikan."
The Crimson Bears, who were undefeated before leaving Juneau, fell to 4-3 overall in best three-of-five matches. Including the best two-of-three mini-matches, Juneau's overall record now is 10-5. Juneau (4-0 region) returns to Region V-Class 4A action this weekend when it heads to Ketchikan for matches on Friday and Saturday.
"We know what we need to work on and where we need to keep improving," Heard said. "We hit really well and our defense was great. Defense is the key to this game and it was one of our strong parts. The girls all have a few new bruises from diving for balls."
"We were neck and neck in a lot of games," Dunivin said. "We definitely kept up the entire time. I think we're all getting along well and it's definitely going to be fun the rest of the year."