ANCHORAGE -- The results may have been similar, but the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears felt there was a world of difference between their two matches in the Class 4A state volleyball tournament Thursday and Friday at West Anchorage High School.
Friday morning's 15-11, 15-12, 15-7 loss to the Skyview Panthers eliminated Juneau from the tournament, which concluded Saturday with the Service Cougars playing the East Anchorage Thunderbirds for the state championship. But the Crimson Bears felt a lot better about the way they played on Thursday, when Juneau was swept 15-2, 15-6, 15-2 by the Palmer Moose.
"All the games were close and everyone was on the ball," Juneau sophomore Amy Neussl said of Friday's Skyview match. "What more can you ask?"
"I'm not disappointed," Juneau sophomore Callan Janowiec added. "We were ready, ready to play ball. It's an improvement."
Thursday, Juneau was the gang that couldn't pass straight.
There were so many passing breakdowns, the Crimson Bears could never get an offense going. Because the pass was offline, the setter had to move for the ball which meant the sets were off just enough that the hitters had to reach for them, which either sent the spike long or into the net.
Friday, Juneau's passing was more under control. But Skyview proved to be a stronger foe than when Juneau played the Panthers in the JIVE (Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza) tournament Oct. 6-7. Skyview won the championship match then with a three-game sweep of the Crimson Bears, but Juneau swept two games from Skyview during round-robin pool play earlier in the tourney.
Both teams felt their previous matches helped them in their rematch at state. Still, each team brought some new wrinkles to their attack when they played Friday.
"I think that always helps a team," Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid said. "We knew where their hitters were going, but we didn't know they'd tip so much. That took us out of our block. The block is always tough when they start to tip because you have leave someone back to cover the tip."
Skyview also didn't have middle blocker Laura Tarbox with the group of Panthers that travelled to Juneau for the JIVE tourney. Tarbox's presence allowed Beth Massey to move back to her outside hitter position, where she led Skyview with 16 kills, two solo blocks, a block assists and an ace. Amanda Bauer added 14 kills and 18 digs for the Panthers, while Tarbox had five kills, two solo blocks and one block assist, Jenny Carpenter had nine kills and 16 digs, and Christina Colvin had 37 assists and two aces.
"We knew what to expect," Bauer said. "We switched middles since Juneau. With our middle running, that let Jenny Carpenter get open on the left side."
Juneau also had a strong performance from its middle, as junior Brenna Asper-Smith had seven kills, a solo block, 100-percent serving and two aces. Neussl led Juneau with 10 kills, 100-percent serving and 18 digs, while Anna Capacci added six kills, a block and two aces; Kelly Baxter had six kills off the bench; Angie Mill added four kills and 26 digs; Janowiec had a block and 100-percent serving; and Rosemarie Moises had 100-percent serving.
"I think the experience of having played Skyview helped," Asper-Smith said. "We'd seen Palmer play and we were a little intimidated by them. I liked the challenge, we just had to play up to their level. I'm happy with today's outcome. I'm excited for next year."
With nearly a complete turnover from last year's second-place team, Juneau only had two players -- Capacci and Mill -- who'd even been to a state tournament. Capacci saw action off the bench last year, while Mill didn't play. Juneau's tournament inexperience was a factor this year, but co-coach Dale Bontrager feels this year's experience will help next year's group of Crimson Bears.
"We had a much more positive experience today," Bontrager said. "If these guys had more experience at this level it could have been a different outcome. We have the capability. We did 100 percent better today. It was like night and day, and I think that added to their confidence. They'll continue to improve. Hopefully we'll be able to win regionals again and come back."
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