After two years of watching Ketchikan represent Region V-Class 4A at the state tournament, the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team is ready to book its own trip this season.
The Crimson Bears only lost two players from last year's team that posted a 16-7 record, and with six seniors, Juneau sports the most experienced roster in Southeast.
Juneau opens its season against Class 3A contender Nikiski at 6:15 p.m. on Thursday in the first round of the Nikiski Basketball Tip-Off Tournament. Juneau plays Class 4A Service at 2:45 p.m. on Friday and closes out the round-robin tournament against Class 4A Soldotna at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The games will be broadcast locally on KJNO, 630-AM.
"We've got a lot of experience, and the girls got a lot of playing time last season," said assistant coach Leslie Knight, who returns to the program after a five-year absence and will run the team this weekend while head coach Jim Hamey is in Seattle for back surgery. "They did a lot of work in the off-season and they've been very committed to winning."
The Crimson Bears return co-MVP Hilary Rehfeld, a 6-foot-2 senior center, from last year's roster. Rehfeld and 5-11 junior forward Amy Neussl both played on a traveling Team Alaska squad led by East Anchorage coach Dorena Bingham this summer, and Rehfeld said the experience will help her during the upcoming high school season. East has won the last two Class 4A state titles and is considered a top contender again this year.
"We're looking to win state," said Rehfeld, who's not satisfied to just return to the state tournament. "I played with a lot of East players this summer, and we can beat them. We worked hard and we got a lot of exposure to different coaching and playing styles. We're excited to get going."
The Parr twins, senior 5-3 guards Suzanne and Kari Parr, shared last year's best hustle award and both will lead Juneau's backcourt this season.
"We've got all of our experienced players back," Kari Parr said.
"But a lot of our younger players know how to play, too," Suzanne Parr added. "Sitka and Ketchikan lost about everybody they had. We're glad to have some games before the Capital City Classic."
Juneau's other seniors are 6-0 center Jessica Hahnlen, 5-10 forward Anna Capacci and 5-10 forward Kacie Murphy.
"First we want to win regions, then we want to win state," Capacci said, adding that Juneau beat East two years ago. "We're really balanced this year across all our positions. We built ourselves strong."
"We have an older team and more experience this year than last season," Hahnlen said. "And we've got good friendships on the team, good chemistry."
Murphy shared last year's most-improved award with 5-8 junior forward Danielle Larson, but might miss part of the season due to a lingering ankle injury. Murphy tore all the ligaments on the right side of her right ankle this summer, but she still has a lot of bruising and soreness. She was supposed to have it looked at this week, and might have to have arthoscopic surgery to clean up some of the damage.
Neussl and Larson are Juneau's only juniors, while returning sophomores include 5-8 forward Alida Bus, 5-4 guard Kendri Cesar, 5-8 forward Latasha McKoy, 5-10 forward Heather Dillon and 5-6 guard-forward Nicole Lupro. Two freshmen, 5-8 forward Mary Rehfeld and 5-8 forward Ashley Larson, round out Juneau's varsity roster this season.
Besides the Nikiski tournament, Juneau's schedule this season includes the Princess Capital City Classic on Dec. 27-29 and the East T-Bird Classic on Jan. 24-26. Juneau plays away games at Ketchikan on Jan. 18-19, at Dimond on Jan. 23 and at Sitka on March 1-2. The Crimson Bears will host Sitka on Feb. 1-2, East Anchorage on Feb. 8-9 (this may wind up being a single game instead of two games due to an overloaded East schedule), Colony for homecoming on Feb. 15-16 and Ketchikan on Feb. 22-23.
Juneau also hosts this year's Region V-Class 4A and Region V-Class 3A tournaments on March 14-16. The Class 4A region winner and the top-two teams in the Class 3A tourney all earn berths in their respective state tournaments on March 21-23 at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena.
"Our goal is to peak at the end," Knight said. "We can't take anything lightly, and we understand some of the young pups at Ketchikan and Sitka can play."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.