The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball season seems like it just started, but the Crimson Bears are already hosting their last home matches of the year this weekend.
The Crimson Bears host their 10th annual Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza commonly known as the JIVE tournament on Friday and Saturday. Then it's a series of road trips for the rest of the season, which ends in November.
In the meantime, Juneau will host teams from Skyview, North Pole, Ketchikan, Sitka, Craig, Wrangell and Kotzebue in the jamboree-style tournament this weekend.
"We're excited," Juneau senior outside hitter/middle blocker Anna Capacci said. "This is definitely the biggest home event for us this season. It's where we get our biggest crowds, and it's a highlight for us."
A series of two-game round-robin matches start at 3 p.m. Friday at both the Juneau-Douglas High School main and auxiliary gymnasiums, with Friday's action finishing about 10 p.m.
There's more of the same round-robin action starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, with best three-out-of-five-game championship-round matches later in the day. The seventh-eighth place match is at 4 p.m. Saturday in the auxiliary gym, and the fifth-sixth place match is 4 p.m. in the main gym. The third-fourth place match is 6 p.m. in the main gym, with the championship match at 8 p.m. in the main gym.
Juneau's round-robin matches on Friday are at 5 p.m. against Ketchikan, 6 p.m. against Skyview, 8 p.m. with Kotzebue and 9 p.m. against Wrangell. On Saturday, Juneau plays Sitka at 9 a.m., Craig at noon and North Pole at 2 p.m.
Last year Juneau won the tournament for the first time, beating Wrangell in the championship match after the Class 3A Wolves scored an upset by posting the second-best record in round-robin play. Wrangell beat out several larger Class 4A teams, like Lathrop and West Anchorage, to reach the finals last year, and the Wolves have several players back this season.
Since this is Juneau's last home event of the season, the Crimson Bears will honor their seniors before their 9 p.m. round-robin match with Wrangell on Friday night. Juneau has three round trips possibly four if the Bears qualify for state after this weekend to close out the season.
"That's the same way it was last season, we were done at home after the JIVE," Juneau coach Sandi Wagner said.
Juneau has completely turned over its team since taking second in the Class 4A state tournament last season, with no returning letterwinners.
Over the first half of the season, the Crimson Bears (6-4 overall, 5-1 in Region V-Class 4A action) have been able to avoid the pitfalls of youth and inexperience. But last weekend, the inexperience factor played a large role in Juneau's losing its first region match in several years. Juneau lost a four-game match to Ketchikan on Friday, when many Juneau players said they lost their confidence. But they came back to win the rematch Saturday at Ketchikan High School.
"I think we have to get our confidence up," said Juneau sophomore outside hitter/middle blocker Amy Neussl, who led the Crimson Bears in kills and serving last weekend. "We got it back on Saturday and we won. Saturday was a confidence builder for us. Winning then was huge, we needed it a lot."
"Everyone hesitated," Capacci said. "We had a lack of confidence, even though we'd already beat them (earlier in the season in a pair of matches at Juneau)."
With the jamboree format, Juneau's players are expecting to see a lot of action this weekend. Each team will play two round-robin games against the other seven squads in the tournament, plus there's the longer match Saturday to determine each team's final placing.
The Crimson Bears think the extra match time will be a big help in developing their younger players.
"This will help us define our chemistry," Neussl said. "We're still finding out who plays well with who and what combinations work best."
The Crimson Bears sounded like this weekend's familiar surroundings will help them get over last weekend's loss in Ketchikan.
"We're playing more like a team," sophomore setter Callan Janowiec said. "We're feeling pretty confident. We've been working a lot on defense and communication. I think we're ready for them."
Being stuck down here in Southeast, Juneau can lose touch with what's happening in the rest of the state. Over the years, the Crimson Bears have gotten used to a style of play against Ketchikan and Sitka then been overwhelmed for a match or two when they went north to see the faster action in Anchorage, the Mat-Su valleys, Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks.
Juneau played in a Fairbanks tournament early this season, posting a 2-3 record, and this weekend's tournament will be the first time the Crimson Bears will see any non-Region V teams since that road trip. One of Juneau's remaining road trips will be to Anchorage for a match with Chugiak and a tournament at Dimond and Service high schools.
"We have no idea what North Pole, Skyview and Kotzebue have," Capacci said. "We always need to play new teams. We've seen Ketchikan three times already this year."
"When we went to Fairbanks we saw the faster pace of the game, and that's the way we want to play," Neussl said. "It's always good seeing them on our out-of-town trips. But for them coming here, it's always nice bringing other teams in."