ANCHORAGE - It would've been very easy and understandable for the Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball team to quit after Thursday's heartbreaking five-game loss to Chugiak.
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Instead, the Crimson Bears decided to stay and fight.
JDHS rebounded to a fourth-place finish at the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Volleyball Championships with Friday's win over Colony and a four-game win over West Valley on Saturday.
Friday's performance was better than the fifth-place finish in each of the last two years and lets JDHS conclude its campaign on a positive note.
"For the most part these kids have an amazing heart," JDHS coach Sandi Wagner said. "They lack experience, but they have an amazing heart. That's what it took for them to do what they did. There were some times when we got into a jag and we didn't give up. There were times when they got on each other's case but they turned it around."
Juneau-Douglas ended the season Saturday with a 25-19, 18-25, 25-21, 25-14 victory over West Valley, the Mid-Alaska Conference champions.
The gritty victory seemed to typify the team's key attributes - perseverance and depth. The Crimson Bears battled back from injury as senior Lindsey Kato suffered a twisted left ankle in the second game and each player pitched in to fill the hole left by her absence. Nicole Fenumiai filled in well for Kato on the front line while senior Katy Nickerson added a key kill in the decisive fourth game.
"It's bittersweet is the best way to describe it," JDHS senior Rachelle Miller. "I'm sad the season is over but really happy we did better than the team last year. That was our goal. I'm happy and sad at the same time."
Momentum appeared to be on West Valley's side after taking the second game, but the Crimson Bears refused to give in. Junior Amber Walker and senior Sammy Roguska's serves helped JDHS open the third game on a 7-1 run. West Valley crept back to cut Juneau's lead to 13-12, but another kill and four-point service run by Walker gave JDHS an 18-12 lead. Senior setter Rachelle Albay added a service point as her team went on to win the third game 25-21.
With fourth place within their grasp, the Crimson Bears decisively captured the fourth game. JDHS exploded to an 8-2 lead and cruised to victory.
"The win is great, but the fact that they played as a team, everybody contributed, everyone was part of it - that was more rewarding," Wagner said. "The fact that kids that hadn't had much playing time during the season, hadn't had many moments in the sun go get the ace serve, got the kill, got the block - that's huge."
Sarah Christianson pounded down 23 kills and added 15 digs while Walker contributed 16 kills and four aces in the win.
"I'm glad we finished fourth," Christianson said. "My goal for this year was to finish better than we did last year because last year was a disappointing fifth. (This is) Not really what I had in mind, but technically we accomplished our goal." JDHS qualified for the fourth-place game Saturday with a gutsy 25-27, 25-23, 25-14, 25-8 win over Colony. After two nail-biting games, the Crimson Bears fell into a groove to win the match. Christianson had six kills, Walker added four kills and senior Kelly Walker added a dig in the fourth game.
"I know I have to try extra hard to not let them down," Walker said of the team's eight seniors. "Getting through that first game and second game is what we needed to do."
Christianson totaled 22 kills Friday with eight digs while Amber Walker had 17 kills and Kelly Walker posted six kills. Tara Hansen had a team-high 12 digs, Albay posted 10 digs and three kills and Cortney Wagner had five digs in the win.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com.