Douglas -- The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team will face a familiar foe when it plays its opening-round match at the Class 4A state tournament Thursday night at West Anchorage High School.
The Crimson Bears will face the Palmer Moose at 8:15 p.m. in the final match of the state tournament's opening round. Last year Juneau (14-4 overall) lost to Palmer in the first round at state, but the Moose return only one starter from that squad this season. Most of Juneau's starters are back for the rematch.
"We're really excited to play Palmer," Juneau senior defensive specialist-outside hitter Sarah Bixby said. "I think we're matched up well."
"They're not a slouch team. They've got a couple of good players," Juneau co-coach Dale Bontrager said of Palmer. "They still have a great middle attack. They'll be a challenge."
In Thursday's other opening-round Class 4A matches, West Valley plays Chugiak at 11:30 a.m., Wasilla plays Dimond at 1:15 p.m. and two-time defending state champion Service plays Skyview at 6:30 p.m.
If Juneau beats Palmer, it will play the Service-Skyview winner at 4:45 p.m. for the right to advance to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. championship match. If the Crimson Bears lose to the Moose, they play the Service-Skyview loser at 9:45 a.m. Friday in an elimination match. Saturday's fourth-sixth place match is at 10:45 a.m. and the third-fifth place match is at 2:15 p.m.
"I think we did really good at regions, and I think we'll be able to carry that into state," Bixby said. "There's not a standout team this year. I think it is up for grabs. We got a really good seeding."
"There's no standout team, but it seems like all year the team to beat was Wasilla," Bontrager said of the Warriors, who are undefeated against Class 4A competition but did suffer a three-hour, five-game loss to Class 3A Valdez. "To have them in the opposite side of the bracket is a big plus. We are in a good position, but we have to play great to get past Palmer. Having beaten Service and Skyview does help with the confidence, but we know we have to play well or else they'll beat us."
Last year's Crimson Bears were undergoing a nearly complete roster change last season, so only two of Juneau's players had been to state in 1999 when Juneau took second place to Service. This year, most of Juneau's players have state tournament experience which should help confidence levels.
"I think going up to state last year was a really good experience for us to build on," Juneau junior middle blocker Amy Neussl said. "We're excited to play Palmer. We saw them at the Service-Dimond tournament so we have a good idea of how they play."
Juneau beat both Service and Skyview in five-game matches during an early season road trip, although Skyview came back to win a mini-match from Juneau a month later in round-robin pool play at the Service-Dimond Tournament.
"We're going up there with high hopes," Neussl said. "We're going to play our best. We've played those guys before. We know what's up there. It'll be quicker and there will be a lot harder hits than what we see down here (in Southeast)."
Besides the Class 4A state tournament, the Class 3A state tourney is also taking place at West Anchorage High School this weekend.
Petersburg, which came through the losers' bracket to win the Region V-Class 3A title last weekend, and Craig are the two Southeast teams in the field. Petersburg opens the tournament against Delta Junction at 8 a.m. on Thursday, while Craig plays defending Class 3A champ Nikiski at 4:45 p.m. The other two first-round matches Thursday feature Cordova vs. Seward at 9:45 a.m. and Valdez against Heritage Christian School at 3 p.m.
The winner of the Petersburg-Delta Junction match will play the Cordova-Seward winner at 6:30 p.m. Friday in one semifinal, while the Valdez-Heritage Christian winner plays the Craig-Nikiski winner at 8:15 p.m. in Friday's other semifinal. The consolation bracket matches are at 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. on Friday. The Class 3A championship game is at 5 p.m. on Saturday, with the third-fifth place match at 12:30 p.m. and the fourth-sixth place match at 9 a.m.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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