If they weren't before, the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears this weekend firmly established themselves as the favorites to win this year's Class 4A state volleyball tournament by winning the Service-Dimond Invitational Volleyball Tournament, the largest regular-season event of the year.
The undefeated Crimson Bears easily swept the tournament co-host Dimond Lynx 25-6, 25-12, 25-16 in Saturday's championship match at Service High School. It was the first time Juneau has ever won the Service-Dimond tourney.
The title match was Juneau's first rally-scoring match of the season, but the Crimson Bears had no problem adjusting from the side-out format and won the championship match in less than an hour.
"It didn't seem to affect us in the least bit," Juneau co-coach Sandi Wagner said by phone from Anchorage Saturday night. "This is extremely exciting. The kids did so well."
The Crimson Bears improved to 13-0 in best-three-out-of-five-game matches this season and they are 79-5 in all games, including a 13-1 mark in round-robin pool-play mini-matches during this weekend's tournament.
"We really don't have a tall monster in the middle, or the kid who can put the ball down hard," Wagner said. "We just play consistently. We're well-rounded and we keep the ball in play. Basically we're undefeated and everybody contributed."
In Friday's opening round, Juneau went 8-0 as it swept two-game mini-matches with Lathrop, Chugiak, Homer and Kenai Central. That put Juneau in the Gold Bracket, where the top eight teams in the 23-team varsity tournament went into another round of round-robin pool-play to decide which teams advanced to the finals.
Juneau swept two-game mini-matches from Colony and Bartlett, then won its first game against Soldotna to clinch a spot in the championship match. Soldotna won the second game of the mini-match for Juneau's only lost game of the weekend.
"We got a little relaxed," Wagner said of the loss.
The other teams to make the round of eight were Dimond, Service, West Valley and Skyview. Juneau won its Gold Bracket pool, with Bartlett taking second place. Dimond won the other Gold Bracket pool, with Service taking second.
Service beat Bartlett in three games (scores not available) to claim third place in the tournament. Skyview swept Soldotna to claim the consolation title in the Gold Bracket, while Homer beat Valdez to win the Silver Bracket and Lathrop topped Seward in the Bronze Bracket final.
Juneau landed two players on the all-tournament team - senior middle blocker Amy Neussl and senior setter Callan Janowiec. But Wagner said the entire team made significant contributions.
"I had several people come up to me after the match to say Kelly (senior outside hitter Kelly Baxter) should have been the MVP because she hit the ball so hard," Wagner said. "And Julie (junior outside hitter Julie Heard) hit very smart. She made six attacks and had six kills in the first game, that's like going 6-for-6 in a baseball game."
In the championship match, Wagner said Juneau's three main attackers - Neussl, Baxter and Heard - all finished with about 11 to 13 kills each.
She also said Juneau didn't miss a serve during the victory over Dimond, which was critical because of the rally-scoring format. Missed serves can be more deadly in rally-scoring matches than in side-out play because they count as a point for the other team.
The Crimson Bears sent four junior varsity teams to the Ketchikan Small Schools Tournament, but fog on Friday morning delayed Juneau's arrival at the tournament until Friday night.
Juneau co-coach Dale Bontrager tried to leave Juneau at 6:30 a.m. on Friday with nine players, but fog kept the plane from landing in Ketchikan and that group ended up in Seattle for several hours. Juneau assistant coach Pat Gorman and Juneau softball coach Kari Monagle took the rest of the Crimson Bears to Ketchikan on a later flight, but that was also delayed.
"What little schedule they had, we pretty much broke," Gorman said.
Craig was playing Ketchikan Team 1 in the finals, but no score was available.
Ketchikan 1 beat Juneau 1 15-5, 13-15, 11-15, 15-4, 15-6 in the semifinals. Juneau 1 eliminated Juneau 2 in the quarterfinals, 15-3, 15-9, 16-14, while Juneau 3 and Juneau 4 were both eliminated early.
The Crimson Bears varsity squad (6-0 in region) will close out its Region V-Class 4A regular season this weekend when it hosts the Sitka Wolves (2-4 in region) on Friday and Saturday. The match times are TBA, but Wagner said the varsity matches will probably start at 8 p.m. on both nights.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.