ANCHORAGE - Things weren't looking good for the Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team.
The Crimson Bears were down two games and trailing in the third Saturday night in the third-fourth place match of the Service-Dimond Invitational. Then sophomore Lesley Kalbrener took charge of the middle.
Kalbrener made three solo blocks and five kills in the third game as Juneau rallied for a 22-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-18, 15-13 victory over the Bartlett Golden Bears at the new Dimond High School gym, claiming third place in the state's largest in-season tournament of the year.
When Kalbrener came out of the game at her usual rotation spot midway through the third game, Kalbrener's improved play prompted Juneau coach Sandi Wagner to pull her over on the bench and tell her, "You decided to make the middle yours. I like that attitude. I really like that attitude."
"Lesley was really blocking," Juneau senior Julie Heard said. "It was a real breakthrough."
"I can't remember exactly what she said," Kalbrener said. "We just built the momentum. We got a good hit. We got one really good point and that was able to bring the team up. We pulled it together, and now we're all going out for ice cream."
The Service Cougars claimed the title in the varsity portion of the 18-team tournament with a 25-19, 25-19, 25-21 victory over the Dimond Lynx. The Cougars also won the junior varsity part of tournament, beating Juneau 25-21, 26-24.
The victory over Bartlett capped off a tournament that saw the young Crimson Bears - who have seven sophomores, three seniors and one junior on the varsity roster - show flashes of brilliance mixed with inconsistent play. Three Juneau players made the all-tournament team - Heard, Kalbrener and senior Karla Dunivin.
"I don't feel like we're a young team anymore," Heard said. "I think we've really picked it up these last couple of months."
"It's pretty amazing what this young team is capable of, but we're doing it," Dunivin added.
On Friday at Service High School, Juneau (9-5 in best-of-five matches and 16-8 including best-of-three matches) opened the tournament's first round-robin pool-play mini-matches with a split against Service, 25-22, 21-25. It was the only game Service lost all tournament. The Crimson Bears promptly went out and lost their next mini-match to West Valley, 26-24, 25-21, before sweeping Homer, 26-24, 25-18, to finish second in their pool.
"Against Service, we really picked it up, but I think we got overconfident for the second game (West Valley)," Juneau sophomore Torie Powers said on Friday. "We're working on that, staying focussed and staying in the moment."
"It's kind of weird how it varied," sophomore Sara Manning added. "We need to stay at the same level. Hopefully we'll get it together tomorrow."
Friday's results put Juneau into one of the two gold-bracket pools that met Saturday morning at Service. The Crimson Bears split with East Anchorage, 25-23, 25-27, then swept West Anchorage, 25-19, 25-18, before being swept by Dimond, 25-22, 25-14. Despite the loss to Dimond, Juneau finished second in the pool and advanced to the semifinals, where the Crimson Bears were swept 25-13, 25-19, by Service.
After a brief visit to the state championship football game, the Crimson Bears returned to the gym to play Bartlett for third place. Even though Bartlett won the first two games, Juneau stayed in it and was playing scrappy defense. All the Crimson Bears needed was for someone to take charge.
"It was determination; we wanted to beat them," Dunivin said of the rally. "We started rolling with it. It was great. It's awesome to get third."
"I was drained, I was really drained," Heard said. "But we just decided to play. We decided to take that fifth game. It's amazing. It's a good feeling."
Dunivin said the victory was especially satisfying because Bartlett beat Juneau in five games on Wednesday, and Bartlett also beat Juneau twice in the Peninsula Challenge tournament in Homer earlier this season.
Heard led the Crimson Bears with 19 kills, two solo blocks and four aces. Dunivin had 15 kills and eight aces, while Kalbrener added 10 kills and five solo blocks.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SERVICE-DIMOND INVITATIONAL ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
The all-tournament team from the 11th annual Service-Dimond Invitational high school volleyball tournament.
All-tourney team - Erin Carrick, Chugiak; Valerie March, Grace Christian School; Rochelle Ray, Colony; Brooke Waggoner, Valdez; Nickoll Bantan, West Anchorage; Shanley Young, West Valley; Chantrelle Cousins, Homer; Jasmine Oliver, Kodiak; Michelle Mitchell, Heritage Christian School; Jessie Macknicki, Palmer; Marlene Holmes, Lathrop; Maddie Thomas, East Anchorage; Sasha Auldridge, Nikiski; Lisa Steinbrecher, Seward; Nikki Moss, Bartlett; Meghan Hunsaker, Bartlett; Vanessa Campbell, Bartlett; Julie Heard, Juneau-Douglas; Karla Dunivin, Juneau-Douglas; Lesley Kalbrener, Juneau-Douglas; Raven Nolan, Dimond; Cristal Negron, Dimond; Andrea Stigall, Dimond; Kaitlin Grenier, Service; Passadeanna Aukusitino, Service; Brenda Cooper, Service.