This has been an incredible, undefeated season for the Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team.
But as incredible and undefeated as the season has been, it won't mean much if the Crimson Bears don't win this weekend's Region V-Class 4A title at Sitka's Mount Edgecumbe High School.
Juneau's posted a 15-0 overall record in best-three-out-of-five-game matches this season - 8-0 in region play - and an 85-5 record in all games (including tournament round-robin pool-play) with championships from the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza (JIVE Tournament) and the 23-team Service-Dimond Invitational Tournament. But the season won't be complete for Juneau without a strong performance at the Class 4A state tournament next weekend at West Anchorage High School.
In order to fulfill their dream of winning Juneau's first state title, the Crimson Bears need to win the region title so they can qualify for state. Only the Region V-4A champion advances, so one misstep could ruin Juneau's magical season.
"Everybody knows we've been playing well," Juneau senior middle blocker Amy Neussl said. " I don't think we care about our record. The rest of the season has all been building up for these two weeks."
"This is crunch time," Juneau co-coach Dale Bontrager said. "It really counts now."
The Region V-Class 4A tournament opens at 3:45 p.m. today when Sitka (3-6 overall, 2-6 region) plays Ketchikan (4-7 overall, 2-6 region) in the first round of the double-elimination tournament. Juneau plays the winner of the Sitka-Ketchikan match at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, with the loser of Friday's match playing the loser of today's match at 6 p.m. on Friday in an elimination contest.
The winner of Friday's 2:30 p.m. match will play the winner of Friday's 6 p.m. match for the region title at 2 p.m. on Saturday. If the winner of Saturday's 2 p.m. match has no losses, it will advance to the state tournament. If Saturday's winner does have a loss, then the teams will play again at 6 p.m. in an if-necessary match.
The tournament has been double-elimination for only a few years, but the new format has advantages and disadvantages for a team that's clearly dominated the league. The dominant team now has to win twice in order to qualify for state, when it used to only have to win once. But it also has a safety valve. If the dominant team has a bad match it can still get to state by going through the losers' bracket.
Another advantage is the Region V champion is guaranteed at least two matches in the region tournament instead of just one, which helps with preparation for state when several of the other region tournaments may feature as many as three or four matches for the state qualifiers.
"It legitimizes the tournament," Bontrager said of the double-elimination format. "If you have a bad game, you can still get to state. But if you have a good game and win, you have to back that up with another good game."
As for the players, they're trying to keep their minds on their duties this weekend instead of looking ahead to the state tournament.
"I've felt like the whole season counts, but this is what matters," Juneau sophomore middle hitter Megan Treston said. "We're not planning on having a bad match."
Juneau has four starters who were on last year's team that took third place at state, so the veterans are helping the newer players understand how important it is to get through the region tournament before looking ahead to state. If the Crimson Bears win this weekend, it will continue what the three Juneau coaches said is a streak of state tournament appearances lasting at least 14 years.
"We're so excited about it, turning it up and getting to state," Neussl said of the region tournament. "I don't think there will be many nerves."
"We're pretty confident," said Juneau senior setter-outside hitter Alessia Bonanno, an exchange student from Rome, Italy. "We know we can play well. We just need to focus. We're trying to focus on our teamwork. We want to do better."
REGION V-CLASS 3A
The Region V-Class 3A tournament also takes place at Mount Edgecumbe this weekend, with the top two teams advancing to next weekend's Class 3A state tourney at West Anchorage High School. Last year's state qualifiers, Petersburg and Craig, finished 1-2 in the regular season this fall and earned first-round byes for the region tournament.
Wrangell will play Haines at 12:15 p.m. today to open the tourney, with Metlakatla playing Mount Edgecumbe at 2 p.m. Petersburg will play the Wrangell-Haines winner at 5:30 p.m. today, while Craig will play the Metlakatla-Mount Edgecumbe winner at 7:15 p.m.
Losers' bracket action starts at 10:30 a.m. on Friday with another losers' bracket match at 12:45 p.m. The winners of the first two losers' bracket matches will play at 4:15 p.m. on Friday.
The winners of Thursday's two late matches will play at 7:45 p.m. on Friday, with the loser playing the winner of the 4:15 p.m. Friday match at noon on Saturday. The winner of the noon match will play the winner of Friday's 7:45 p.m. match at 4 p.m. on Saturday for the title. An if-necessary match will take place at 8 p.m. if both title-match teams have one loss each. If there's no Class 4A if-necessary match, the start time of the Class 3A if-necessary match will move up to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.