ANCHORAGE -- Even though only two of the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears have been to a Class 4A state volleyball tournament before, the Crimson Bears weren't too worried about their tourney opener this morning.
The Crimson Bears have a tough draw for today's opening round of the tournament at West Anchorage High School. Juneau plays the Palmer Moose at 11:30 a.m. this morning, with Palmer being a surprise third seed from Region III after winning that region's regular-season title.
Today's other matches pit defending state champion Service against Skyview at 1:15 p.m., with the other half of the bracket featuring Lathrop against Chugiak at 7:15 p.m. and Wasilla against East Anchorage at 9 p.m. Friday's consolation semifinals are at 8 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., with the losers of both matches being eliminated from the tournament. The championship semifinals are at 3:30 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Friday, with the tournament's championship match set for 8 p.m. on Saturday.
"We've seen all the teams before," Juneau's Brenna Asper-Smith said. "They (the Moose) were the champions of the Service-Dimond Tournament. Sure, we'll be a little bit nervous. But it's all in how we get ready to play."
"We've played a few of these teams before," Juneau's Amy Neussl added. "If we don't perform, they can do whatever they want with us. But we've seen the faster pace and the harder hitters. We've just got to do what we've got to do."
Juneau takes almost a completely new team to state after taking second place to Service last year, the best finish ever by the Crimson Bears. Only senior Angie Mill and junior Anna Capacci return from that team that went to state, and neither of them lettered last year. Even though the state tournament will be new to most of the Bears, they didn't seem worried.
"We're just excited to play," Juneau's Janina Pelayo said. "We're really coming together as a team. There are teams we've beaten that have beaten Palmer. If we play together as a team, stay confident and don't get down, we can win some matches."
"Getting there is a good thing," Neussl said. "We're all focussed on taking state. We have to have high expectations. Otherwise, what's the point of going."
In Palmer, the Crimson Bears face one of the state's tallest middle hitters in 6-foot-2 Lisa Thomas, who was one of the region's two MVPs. But the Moose also have strong outside hitters in Tami Callison and Tara Hillis, who both go about 5-5, 5-6.
Palmer had been undefeated in region play until being upset by Skyview in the Region III semifinals, prompting Juneau head coach Sandi Wagner to ask, "How did that happen?"
Last year, Service was the state's dominant team with its only loss coming to an Oregon team when the Cougars travelled Outside. This year, there hasn't been a dominant team to assert itself. Service won the Region IV tournament, but suffered three losses this year and Region V champion Lathrop lost to Palmer in the title match of the Service-Dimond Tournament. Juneau won its 11th Region V title in 13 years, but lost once to Ketchikan this year, its first region loss in several seasons.
"It's a real balanced tournament," Juneau assistant coach Pat Gorman said.
"If Palmer can take third in its region, then you know there's not a dominant team," Juneau assistant coach Dale Bontrager said. "They (the Crimson Bears) have been up there, and they played Skyview down here so they know what to do. If we really play well we can beat some teams."
Juneau won't be the only Southeast team at a state volleyball tournament this weekend. Both Craig and Mount Edgecumbe will be at the Class 3A tourney, which also opens today at West Anchorage High School.
Craig, which was undefeated in Region V-3A action this season, will open play at 9:45 a.m. this morning against defending Class 3A state champion Grace Christian School of Anchorage. Mount Edgecumbe, which took third place during the regular season but upset Petersburg at the region tourney, will play Valdez at 3:30 p.m.
Today's other first-round matches pit Nikiski against Delta Junction at 8 a.m. and Seward against Cordova at 5;15 p.m. Friday's consolation matches are at 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m., with the semifinals at 7:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday's Class 3A state championship match is at 6 p.m.