Death, taxes and Juneau-Douglas in the state volleyball tournament.
Well, it's not exactly written in stone that the Crimson Bears will win the Southeast Conference Volleyball Tournament every year, but it sure seems to have become an annual rite of passage for the Juneau-Douglas girls over the past two-plus decades.
The Crimson Bears volleyball program has made the state tournament a perfect 23 times over the last 23 years. But it was just last season where Juneau-Douglas was on the ropes against Ketchikan, facing elimination after losing its first match in the double-elimination conference tourney.
This year's team, undefeated in conference play at 8-0, doesn't want to see a repeat of that performance.
"We had a really dramatic region tournament because of that loss," senior outside hitter Daffodil Alinson said. "We don't want to go through that again. We need to stay focused and get through this week, and hopefully go to state. This is the last year for most of us and we want to at least do better than we did at state, and redeem ourselves for last year's meltdown."
So the theme for Juneau-Douglas' final practice Wednesday was "focus," which coach Sandi Wagner called "a work in progress."
But not only does Wagner want to see the girls focused and on point, she wants them to have fun and relax while keeping a positive inner outlook.
She told the team before practice how much she likes how positive the girls are toward each other when a mistake is made, but she doesn't like how they sometimes get down on themselves.
"Whenever coach brings us together we have short talks about forgetting our mistakes and focusing more on being positive," senior setter Vika Toetuu said. "We know we can play better because we have a really good team - we communicate really well. Just communicating and keeping each other up is the key."
Thirteen of the team's 14 players are seniors, though many of the girls are making their first trip to the region tournament as members of the varsity. And best believe, adding to Juneau-Douglas' state qualifying streak would be a special thing for each of them.
"State is a big deal. Last year I got to practice with the varsity, and maybe going to state for the first time, I'm excited," Toetuu said. "Going into regions, we know that we are better than Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain, but we still have to play hard and try to play our best because it will take us to state. It's very important to play well this weekend."
For first-year varsity member Keaunna Miller, a senior outside hitter, making the state tournament would continue a family legacy. Miller's older sister, Rachelle, also played for Juneau-Douglas before graduating in 2007.
"My sister played varsity all four years she was here, so it's really exciting for me to be a part of it," she said. "We're going to work hard and have fun. We're working on everything. We try to keep each other up and say it's OK when we make a mistake. It's a teamwork thing."
A region tournament win would mark Alinson's third trip to state, but that doesn't make the prospects of competing on the biggest stage of Alaska prep volleyball any less exciting.
"It's new and fresh every year," she said. "Anchorage teams get better and better, so we never know what we're going to be up against. We don't know what to expect this year, either."
But first things first, Juneau-Douglas must win this weekend's double-elimination tournament. JDHS plays the winner of today's Thunder Mountain-Ketchikan match on Friday at 2:45 p.m.
And it's all about focus - focus and fun.
"If you're not having fun," Wagner said, "there's no point."
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