The Crimson Bears found out just how bittersweet high school volleyball can be this weekend.
The Juneau-Douglas High School squad looked dominant in stretches Saturday as they won two of their final three matches to finish second in the silver bracket of the 20-team Dimond-Service Invitational.
The Bears kicked off the Invite's final day by walloping West 25-9, 25-10, and then squeezing past East with a third-set tiebreaker 25-11, 18-25, 16-14.
The silver-bracket championship against Soldotna capped JDHS' weekend, but brought back the inconsistency demons that have plagued the squad thus far. They dropped a lop-sided first set 25-11, but seemed to rebound with an inspired 25-13 win in the second. The wheels fell off again in the tiebreaker, though, as they fell 6-15.
Well, two out of three's not bad - right?
"Not really," head coach Sandi Wagner said. "We were in that bottom bracket where we don't want to be. That's OK, though, we tried a lot of different things and our younger kids got a lot of playing time in."
The Bears fell into the silver bracket Friday when they posted a 1-2-1 record in pool play. They started the tournament by falling to Chugiak 19-25, 20-25, but bounced back to topple Canada's Porter Creek 25-8, 25-11. The standings got a little more confusing as they later split a tight third match against Eagle River 23-25, 26-24. Juneau-Douglas still could have salvaged a spot in the gold bracket with a split against Homer, but dropped a pair of heart-breakers 21-25, 26-28.
"That (Homer) match is the one we really lamented not being able to finish," Wagner said. "I can tell you we'll be working on close games a lot this week. We'll put the kids in some 20-21 situations and see if they can learn to pull it out."
Middle hitter Rachel Peyton had a "breakout performance" at the tournament, according to Wagner. Peyton led the team in passing, blocking and hitting as she secured JDHS' only spot on the All-Tournament squad.
"It was very exciting to see her find her hitting game again," Wagner said. "She was also an amazing server for us - very consistent, very tough."
The team's early struggles prompted Wagner to shuffle many of their usual lineups and formations throughout the tournament. A few younger players were called up to try their hand at the varsity level, and impressed their coaches and teammates along the way.
Kalia Chapman was one of those young players, excelling everywhere the coaches moved her on defense. Megan Hart also may have found a new role with the varsity as she shined at a number of positions, including setter.
"(The younger) girls got some good playing time in with us when we moved the lineups around," Wagner said. "We were very excited to see the effort they put out this weekend."
With some improved play due to the lineup changes, Wagner expects to do even more shuffling as the team moves forward.
JDHS also brought their JV squad down to the Dimond-Service Invite, a rare treat for the younger players in recent years.
"I'd say we get to fly them up here once every three or four years - maybe more," Wagner said. "We've just got so many good young players right now that we wanted them to get this experience under their belts."
The underclassmen did not disappoint, as they finished third in the 16-team JV tournament. The JV also picked up a win on Thursday in their dual match against Service.
The Crimson Bears squads will resume their play next weekend when they host their annual All-Comers Tournament. Wagner expects "about 16 or 17" teams to make their way to Juneau. Saturday will be capped by the varsity's senior night.
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