ANCHORAGE - The Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team had three big advantages entering Thursday's opening-round match of the Class 4A state tournament against the Kenai Central Kardinals.
The Crimson Bears had a decided height margin, they'd beaten Kenai twice earlier this season, and they had more state-tournament experience. The Kardinals played strong early in the match, but in the end Juneau's three advantages were too much for Kenai as Juneau claimed a 25-18, 25-19, 25-12 sweep at West Anchorage High School.
"It was a good way to open the tournament," Juneau senior setter Rochele Rodman said. "We knew what was coming. Now we're ready for the next level."
"It feels so good to get that first one out of the way," Juneau junior outside hitter Hannah Barril added.
Juneau's progess at the state tourney in Anchorage:
CLASS 4A FIRST ROUND
Juneau-Douglas defeated Kenai 25-18, 25-19, 25-12.
CLASS 4A SEMIFINAL
Juneau-Douglas vs. Service, 3:45 p.m.
Juneau will play defending champ Service in today's 3:45 p.m. semifinal, with the winner advancing into Saturday's 8 p.m. championship match. Today's loser will play Saturday at 2:15 p.m. in the third-fifth place match.
The Cougars knocked off Palmer 25-19, 22-25, 25-12, 25-16 in an opening-round match Thursday. In the other opening-round matches, West Anchorage rallied to beat West Valley 21-25, 25-10, 25-17, 25-14 and Colony swept East Anchorage 25-16, 25-17, 25-17.
The biggest advantage Juneau had on the court was its height.
The Crimson Bears (19-0 in best-of-five matches, 20-2 including best-of-three matches) on average were about three inches taller than the Kardinals, and that's with Barril's diminutive 5-foot-1 figured into the mix. The Crimson Bears had three 6-footers and five players 5-10 or taller. Kenai had just one player taller than 5-8 - Damaris Craig at 5-10 - and she didn't see much action.
That height advantage let Juneau run plays through the middle, and 6-foot juniors Jillian Hahnlen and Lesley Kalbrener combined to lead Juneau in kills and blocking. Hahnlen had 10 kills, while Kalbrener recorded eight kills and two solo blocks. Kenai's defense kept several balls alive, but Juneau eventually started to shoot most of its plays toward the middle and the Kardinals broke down on defense and passing.
"Even though they didn't have the height, it was interesting the way they made up for their lack of height," said Kalbrener, who was named the player of the match for Juneau. "Those long rallies showed it was a well-matched game."
With Juneau's frequent substitutions, no other Crimson Bear had more than four kills, with Sara Manning recording four kills and three aces and Sarah Christianson adding four kills. Amber Johnson had two kills and three aces, while Megan Treston added three blocks and Alycia Cox had two aces.
The next advantage for Juneau was having beaten Kenai earlier this season.
Juneau played Kenai twice on a September road trip to Kodiak, winning both matches in four games. The Crimson Bears beat Kenai 25-16, 19-25, 25-18, 25-22 on Sept. 10, then won 16-25, 25-18, 25-16, 25-20 on Sept. 11.
"It helps our confidence, seeing them and knowing we'd beaten them before," Hahnlen said. "It always helps to have seen them."
"We'd seen them play before, but it's amazing how much a team can improve over two months," Kalbrener said. "I think we showed we improved a lot."
Then there was the experience factor. The three Juneau coaches, who have a combined 54 years leading the Crimson Bears, can only remember missing a state tournament twice since 1986. Kenai coach Jason Diorec said his school's assistant principal thought it had been 21 years since the last time the Kardinals sent a team to state.
Even though the Kardinals looked strong early, Diorec said nerves played a role in his team's loss. He didn't have stats for his team, but Samantha Calderwood was named the player of the match for Kenai and he said Jamie Peters did well.
"The whole venue itself is nerve-wracking," Diorec said. "We knew what their strengths were, but our basics were what killed us. Our digging and passing fell apart. The first game was the only one where we put up a fight."
"I don't think it matters much," Barril said of the tourney experience advantage. "You just play your hardest. This may be their first time to the tournament, but they've played us before."
Hahnlen said she had no preference as to Juneau's semifinal opponent, but Barril said she wanted to see Service again. The Crimson Bears lost a best-of-three match to the Cougars in the Service-Dimond Invitational last month, and in that match Juneau had some passing breakdowns that let the Cougars sweep the Crimson Bears 25-8, 25-18.
"If Service wins, that's a rematch for us," Barril said.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.