ANCHORAGE - The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team was on a scouting mission during this year's Service-Dimond Invitational volleyball tournament.
The Crimson Bears had only been outside of Southeast once this season, and the 20-team tournament was a perfect place to see most of the state's top competition at the varsity level. The tournament, which was co-hosted by Dimond and Service high schools, featured almost all of the Class 4A teams that went to last year's state tournament and several of the Class 3A state teams from last year.
"We were pretty excited. We were ready for some tougher teams," sophomore outside hitter Sarah Christianson said after Juneau won its round-robin pool in Friday night's action at Service High School. "We've only been tested by Ketchikan, so we were excited (and) nervous to see some other teams."
"We were very excited to kind of size up the competition before state," junior middle blocker Lesley Kalbrener said. "So far, every team we've played has been good. A lot of our strength today was our defense. They had a lot of big girls, but not many balls hit the ground."
After winning Pool B - the five-team round-robin pool that also featured West Anchorage, East Anchorage, Lathrop and Seward - with a 7-1 record in its four two-game mini-matches, the Crimson Bears were one of eight teams to advance to Saturday's Gold Bracket. The double-elimination Gold Bracket decided the tournament's champion.
"I thought we pulled together today," Juneau senior outside hitter Amber Johnson said about winning their pool on Friday. "We played as a team and we pulled together. We haven't played any of these teams, so it feels good. It feels great."
In Friday's pool play, Juneau swept Seward, 25-15, 26-24; Juneau swept East Anchorage, 25-19, 25-19; Juneau split with West Anchorage, 17-25, 25-18; and Juneau swept Lathrop, 25-17, 25-12. West took second place in the pool with a 6-2 record and also advanced to the Gold Bracket.
Juneau opened Gold Bracket play on Saturday morning with a 25-21, 25-22 victory over Valdez, but lost 25-20, 25-18 to Dimond to drop into the losers' bracket. Then, the Crimson Bears fell to eventual tournament runner-up Service 25-8, 25-18 and they were eliminated after tying for fifth place.
The Colony Knights claimed the tournament title with a 26-24, 24-26, 15-6 victory over the Service Cougars in a rematch of last year's Class 4A state title match, which was won by Service.
Even though the previously undefeated Crimson Bears didn't finish as well as they would have liked to in the tournament, they said the tourney was more about scouting out the competition so the players can prepare for next month's state tournament.
"We feel OK. There are a lot of new teams, so we know what we need to work on now," Juneau junior middle blocker Sara Manning said after Saturday's matches. "We had our good games yesterday. We really picked it up."
"We had a lot of fun," Juneau junior middle blocker Jillian Hahnlen said. "We played against some tougher teams. We had a little problem with overpassing (during a long run by Service in the first game), but we came together and played them close in the second game."
The Crimson Bears will close out their Southeast region Class 4A season with a pair of home matches against Sitka this weekend, with matches on Friday and Saturday at the JDHS main gym. Match times will be announced later this week, but the varsity matches usually start at 8 p.m., after the junior varsity and C team matches are over.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.