Extra effort pays off

Juneau volleyball team keeps up the intensity with sweeps over Sitka

Posted: Sunday, October 26, 2003

It was a smack that smacked of a championship game, or a state tourney berth on the line.

Juneau junior Amber Johnson hit the hardwood floor hard during Friday night's home volleyball match on a successful dive to keep an out-of-bounds ball in play.

That Johnson's extra effort came midway through a regular-season match against Sitka - with no postseason implications - speaks volumes about this year's team, Crimson Bear coach Sandi Wagner said.

"One of the things we tell them is that our first rule is, 'Get every ball,'" Wagner said. "Our second rule is, 'If you think you can't get the ball, see Rule No. 1.' Sometimes it involves diving, and sometimes it involves full-out sprints. ...

"So many of the coaches we've played against say that what this team has going for it is so much heart. Their experience may be lower than other teams, but they have heart."

The Juneau-Douglas High School varsity concluded an undefeated Region V-Class 4A regular season Friday and Saturday with a sweep of the Sitka Wolves. The Crimson Bears defeated the Wolves 25-19, 25-13, 25-18 on Friday; on Saturday - Senior Night - Juneau beat Sitka 25-9, 25-21, 25-9.

Juneau (11-5 in best-of-five matches, 8-0 in Region V-Class 4A) secured the region tourney's top seed a month ago, and Sitka came into the weekend knowing it would be seeded third. But Johnson's dive was one of many examples of high-intensity play on both sides of the net.

"It was the seniors' last weekend (at home), and we had an extra boost of adrenaline," Johnson said. "I love diving for the ball - and I have many bruises from it. ... It's just natural."

Senior Julie Heard said the team does its best to follow "Rule No. 1."

"Amber and I are pretty much full believers in it," she said. "Bruises will heal."

Wagner said team practices cover safe ways to dive for a ball, but it's up to the players to make it happen on the court.

"For some of them it's automatic, and for some it's something they have to learn," she said. "We try to teach them how to get to the floor safely. ...

"There isn't a whole lot of contact with people (in volleyball), but there's a lot of contact with a hard ball and a very hard floor."

Sitka put up a good challenge to Juneau in Friday's match. The first game was a see-saw battle, with a tie as late as 19-19. Then a kill by sophomore Lesley Kalbrener, a block by Kalbrener and a kill by senior Karla Dunivin on successive plays - combined with steady serving from sophomore Torie Powers - put the Crimson Bears out in front for good.

Juneau had an easier time in the second game, as two Kalbrener kills, a Dunivin kill and Johnson's diving effort helped the Crimson Bears to a 12-5 lead en route to the win. The third game was closer, as Sitka narrowed Juneau's lead to 18-16 and 20-17. But kills by senior Heather Dillon and sophomore Jillian Hahnlen kept Juneau ahead for good.

Heard had 22 digs in Friday's three games.

On Saturday, Sitka fell behind early in the first game as Juneau built leads of 8-1 and 10-2. Strong serving from sophomores Hannah Barril and Rochele Rodman prevented the Wolves from mounting any rallies. Dillon had three blocks in the game.

Sitka made it more interesting in the second game, charging back from a 7-1 deficit to close to within two points, 23-21. Then a serving error by Sitka and a Dillon kill sealed the win for Juneau.

The Crimson Bears rolled in Saturday's third game. After the Wolves closed to 9-5, Juneau went on a 16-4 run the rest of the way. Over the three games, Heard had five kills and 12 digs, Dillon had eight kills and Dunivin had four kills and 10 digs.

"It was a good weekend," Wagner said. "Sitka came to play. They brought a lot back at us, and we struggled offensively, but the kids picked it up and got the job done."

The seniors and their parents were honored prior to Saturday's match - Juneau's last home match of the season.

"I can't believe it's over," Heard said. "I've been waiting four years for this."

Juneau will be sending a varsity/JV mix to next weekend's Allcomers' Tournament at Ketchikan. The varsity squad will return at full strength for the Region V tourney at Petersburg on Nov. 6-8.

In other weekend action, the Juneau junior varsity swept Sitka - 25-12, 25-8, 25-8 on Friday, and 25-13, 25-17, 25-15 on Saturday. Juneau junior Ericka Novak was 13-for-14 serving in Saturday's second game, with seven aces.

The Juneau C team split with Sitka, winning 25-17, 25-21, 25-14 on Friday and falling 25-21, 16-25, 17-25, 17-25 on Saturday.

Saturday's Juneau C team was comprised entirely of seniors who - though not on the varsity squad - stuck with the rigorous practice schedule all season for the chance to play at any level.

"These kids are here because they love the game, and we want to give them that opportunity," Wagner said. "Even though they're not playing varsity, they're an important part of this team."

• Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com.

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