Last fall, the first-year Juneau-Douglas High School tennis program was on a journey without a final destination.
This week, the second-year Crimson Bears are looking forward to their first season-capping tournament.
Juneau will join teams from Anchorage and Fairbanks on Friday and Saturday in Anchorage for the 2004 Alaska State High School Invitational, which will serve as an unofficial state tournament for Alaska prep tennis teams. It's the first time high school tennis teams from three Alaska regions will play at a single meet.
"It's a reason to try to get better," Juneau senior Naomi Sadighi said of having a season-ending tournament. "It really motivates you."
Eleven Juneau tennis players will make the trip north - five girls and six boys. Joining Sadighi will be Ben Cotter, Bryan Crowder, Lauren Hopson, Lyndsey Kelly, Devon Kibby, Zak Kirkpatrick, Laura Knapp, Kaelen Knutson-Lombardo, Max Mueller and Dream Suchitbahanabitya.
As of Wednesday evening, the tournament Web site listed 94 players from more than 10 schools registered to play this weekend. The meet will be held at two locations of The Alaska Club.
In their inaugural season last year, the Crimson Bears played matches against each other as the young program worked to find its footing. That set the stage for this season, when Juneau made its first-ever high school tennis trip to a regular-season meet in Fairbanks on Sept. 17-18.
Last weekend, the Crimson Bears played a formal region tournament in Juneau, leading the way to this weekend's trip to Anchorage.
"We've gone from no tournaments in the first year to having three tournaments, and two of those outside of Juneau," Juneau coach Amy Skilbred said. "This team has come a long way."
At the Fairbanks tournament, Crimson Bear players - some who never played tennis before this season - got to play for hours against new competition.
"You spend literally two days, all day, at the courts," Skilbred said of traveling to tournaments. "It results in a huge improvement in games. You've got to rise to the occasion."
"On the Fairbanks trip, we saw what we could do," said Knutson-Lombardo, a sophomore who will play doubles with Kirkpatrick this weekend. "(Now) we have a chance to improve on that."
No matter where they end up in the standings this weekend, the Crimson Bears are aware that just setting foot on the Anchorage courts will be an accomplishment for their team.
"Mostly our kids are going up to have fun - and I'm pretty sure that's guaranteed," Skilbred said.
"Just the fact that we're going says something," Sadighi said. "As a team, we get to show up and say, 'Juneau is here.' ...
"It would be really nice to do well, but it's not the ultimate goal. We've reached our ultimate goal, to have a team to travel. Everything else is just a bonus."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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