For a trio that share the same grade and the same sport, Juneau-Douglas High School varsity volleyball seniors Julie Heard, Karla Dunivin and Heather Dillon have traveled very different athletic paths to reach this point.
Heard is a varsity veteran, Dunivin has made a dedicated drive up through the ranks and Dillon is an eager newcomer to the Crimson Bear squad, which hosts its final home matches of the season today and Saturday against the Sitka Wolves.
The varsity squads will play at 8 p.m. each night, with junior varsity matches at 6 p.m. and C team matches at 4 p.m. Juneau's seniors will be honored at Saturday's varsity match.
"They definitely bring different things to the team," Juneau coach Sandi Wagner said of her three varsity seniors. "Julie brings experience from playing varsity for three years. Karla brings a powerful outside hit, a great serve and the idea that everyone's a big family. ... (And) Heather is the new athlete, wanting to learn everything. It's fun watching how things improve every single practice."
Heard has the most varsity experience of any player on the young Crimson Bear squad. She spent her freshman year on the JV team, with a few tastes of varsity action. Since her sophomore year, she's been a fixture on varsity.
"It's been interesting going through three different teams," Heard said. "It's been fun seeing this team come together."
Dunivin started out on the C team as a freshman, and worked her way up to get varsity playing time last season. She's been a rock on varsity this season, and said her experience at all the levels helps her when coaching younger players.
"I've been on the C team; I used to play with some of them," Dunivin said. "It's easier to teach them now."
Dillon had played high school basketball before this fall, but her volleyball experience was limited to middle-school and adult leagues. She said she had some apprehension about joining the squad, but said the players and coaches have been great at making her part of the team.
"They've been very welcoming, very fun, very easy to get along with," Dillon said.
Beyond the seniors' different backgrounds, this season's Crimson Bears have had to forge a unified varsity team out of many new sophomore and junior players. Heard and Dunivin were the only varsity returners this season, but the seniors said the mix of new faces has proven to be a good combination.
"We just adapted to each other," Heard said. "Our personalities work well."
"There's not a lot of bickering," Dillon said. "There is a great bond between everyone."
Heard said there's a good balance among the seniors, too; she's often the one who keeps the team on task during practice, while Dunivin keeps the mood upbeat as they go through drills.
"They're definitely the leaders," Wagner said. "There's no question that without them, we couldn't be anywhere near where we are."
It has been nearly a month since Juneau (9-5 in best-of-five matches, 6-0 in Region V-Class 4A) clinched the top seed for November's Region V-Class 4A tournament.
The rest of the postseason picture was finalized last weekend when the Wolves and the Ketchikan Kings split a pair of matches at Ketchikan. Kayhi won the season series with the Wolves 3-1, giving the Kings the second seed and Sitka the third seed for the region tourney, which will be held Nov. 6-8 in Petersburg.
With no postseason implications, this weekend's matches look to be a region tune-up for both teams.
"We're not a young team anymore," Heard said. "We're looking to work on specific things. Hopefully we'll get some good competition this weekend and take it another step up."
Wagner said the team will work on implementing a more dynamic offense, improving passing and keeping focused for the duration of a match.
In addition to the varsity players, other seniors playing for the Crimson Bears JV and C teams are Alix Curtain, Anadel Piol, Chelsea Miller, Christine Giefer, Donna Shelton, Ellen Story, Erin Kelly, Malissa Suson, Stephanie Mooney and Traci Ferguson.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.