The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team returned from three days of volleyball on the road and had learned two important things about themselves. First, the defense played tremendously well. Second, the offense has some work to do.
JDHS made it to the finals of the Service/Dimond Tournament Saturday in Anchorage before falling to South Anchorage, 25-14, 27-25, 25-27, 25-14.
"South was the tallest team we played," JDHS coach Sandi Wagner said. "In the first game, they dominated us. We made some changes and played better. We looked at running our offense a little bit differently and had a couple kids come in to change the team."
After dropping the first game, the JDHS coaches inserted reserve hitter Kate Diebels into the game. The move paid instant dividends. Diebels elevated the Bears' defensive intensity.
"Kate Diebels, in the finals, stepped up and played volleyball beyond anything we've seen out of her," JDHS co-coach Dale Bontrager said. "It was just fantastic defense and very cool to see."
Diebels, along with reserve setter Rachelle Albay, provided a spark off the bench. But JDHS fell 2-0 in the match after losing the second game 27-25. The Crimson Bears refused to quit, however, and rallied to win the third game before running out of gas in the fourth.
"We had a long team meeting after (Saturday) night and some of the kids were disappointed we didn't win," Bontrager said. "We talked about how our whole game is elevated when individuals play well. That's what Rachelle and Kate did for us, they inspired the rest of the team to play well. That's what we're looking for, that spark."
Diebels had a team-high 16 digs in the final while Albay contributed 15 digs.
Lesley Kalbrener was named to the All-Tournament team and had 14 kills. Jillian Hahnlen added 14 kills and five blocks.
Juneau-Douglas played 23 games against competition throughout Alaska during the two-day tournament.
The road trip started inauspiciously Thursday at Colony. The Knights defeated Juneau-Douglas 25-20, 25-17, 25-21. Later that day, JDHS traveled to Wasilla and topped the Warriors 25-14, 25-18, 25-12. Alycia Cox had 21 digs, while Hahnlen added 13 kills.
At the tournament, Juneau-Douglas turned up the intensity and received a stellar defensive performance from Albay. The junior played excellent defense throughout the weekend and helped energize the team.
"Rachelle Albay was our J.V. setter all year and she stepped on to the court and just sparked the team," Bontrager said. "She's so quick and played fantastic defense. She's amazingly quick."
During Friday's pool play, JDHS quickly shook off Thursday's rust and swept Skyview, Monroe Catholic and East Anchorage in best-of-three matches.
Hanhlen amassed 27 kills in the three matches. Kalbrener added 20 kills and Sara Manning contributed 17 kills. Sarah Christianson added 24 digs, and Marita Rodriguez added 10 digs during Friday's action.
During Saturday morning's pool play, Juneau-Douglas dropped a game to Grace Christian but rebounded to top Eagle River and West. Christianson continued her stellar defensive play with 23 digs in pool play, while Rochele Rodman and Alycia Cox added 10 digs each.
JDHS swept Colony, Service and Cordova in the afternoon to qualify for bracket play and a chance at the title.
In Saturday's quarterfinals, the Crimson Bears avenged their earlier loss to Grace Christian with a 25-20, 25-23 victory. JDHS received a balanced attack as Hanhlen posted eight kills, Kalbrener had seven kills, Christianson contributed five kills and 11 digs, Manning added six kills and Anne Wilcock added one kill.
JDHS then upended Colony 25-17, 25-23 in the semifinal round.
The Crimson Bears played terrific defense in the win. Rodman, Cox, Christianson and Albay all posted double-digit digs. Rodriguez and Manning added nine digs each, while Kate Monagle added three digs.
"Definitely our defense elevated to a level we haven't seen yet this year," Bontrager said. "Our offense struggled a bit. We didn't have all cylinders firing very often."
Wagner said she wants to work on the offense during this week in preparation for the Bears' regular-season finale this weekend at home against Ketchikan.
"That's what we'll be focusing on," Wagner said of the offense. "Ketchikan is going to be much better this weekend. I think we're going to see an improved team when we see them this weekend."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com.