A stout defense kept the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team in a lot of games last year. But an inconsistent offense kept the Crimson Bears from doing much more than qualify for the Class 4A state tournament before losing in the playoffs.
This year, the Crimson Bears still have that strong defense. However, it appears Juneau may have an offense to go along with it this season.
The points are coming a lot easier for the Crimson Bears, as they scored more than 50 points in all three games of their season-opening road trip to Fairbanks. Last year Juneau scored more than 50 points in only seven of its 26 games, but won all seven. So far this season, Juneau has been able to continue that winning streak in games where it scores 50 or more points.
Juneau closed out the trip with a 67-45 victory over West Valley on Saturday, one day after beating North Pole by 50 points, 81-31.The Crimson Bears opened the trip with a 54-49 victory over Lathrop on Thursday.
"Scoring has been difficult in the past, and we talked about that before the season started," Juneau coach Lesslie Knight said in a phone interview Saturday night. "In order for us to win and be successful, 50 (points) was our goal. As we progressed through the weekend, we raised that goal a bit.
"Our defense has always been solid, but our offense has been rocky for us the last couple of years. We're working on changing that."
In Saturday's game, senior Danielle Larson, though small for a post player at 5-foot-9, scored 18 points to lead the Crimson Bears (3-0). Senior wing forward Amy Neussl added 13 points, while junior point guard Kendri Cesar scored 12. Juneau also got eight points from junior Heather Dillon, while junior forward Letasha McKoy scored seven.
"I knew I had to step up this year because our other posts graduated and I'd be the No. 1 post," said Larson, who scored at least 15 points in all three games. "I'm a little short, but if you know what you're doing and can block out you can get it done."
"Our defense has always been strong," McKoy said. "Our offense is coming together, as long as we slow down and run our plays."
Jenna Jones scored 16 points to lead West Valley, while Kinlee Hawkins and Michaela Craft added eight points each for the Wolfpack (1-2).
"Today we did a nice job on the boards," Knight said. "We had a ton of offensive rebounds."
Knight said the increased activity in the paint was welcome following Thursday's game, when Juneau was outrebounded 33-24 by Lathrop (1-2) and the Crimson Bears had only five offensive rebounds the whole game.
Juneau's defense led to a strong offense in Friday's game, as Cesar and ailing sophomore guard Nicole Lupro both had five steals in the first half to key the Crimson Bears' victory over North Pole (1-2). The Patriots were coming off a 47-45 victory over Kenai on Thursday, and Knight said North Pole coach Rob McIntosh told her the Patriots struggled when Kenai went to a full-court press. Knight said she filed that piece of information away and used it in the game.
The Crimson Bears led by just one point, 10-9, at the end of the first quarter. But Juneau used a full-court press defense to start a 20-point scoring run in the second quarter, as Juneau ran out to a 34-11 halftime lead. The Crimson Bears cruised from there, outscoring the Patriots 47-20 in the second half.
"We won by 50 and a ton of kids got to play," Knight said. "It was a nice relaxed game for us. We pressed them full out. The lead would have been bigger in the first quarter, but we had a half-dozen steals we didn't convert on."
Larson and Neussl, Juneau's only two seniors, both scored 15 points to lead the Crimson Bears. McKoy scored 13 points, Cesar had 10, sophomore Mary Rehfeld scored eight, while the duo of junior Alida Bus and sophomore Ashley Larson added seven points each.
"Everyone coming off the bench contributed," Knight said. "It was nice that our second string could maintain or increase the lead."
Knight said she liked Ashley Larson's defensive job on North Pole post Shardé Burkhead, as Juneau held North Pole's top scorer to just six points. Stephanie Dahlke led the Patriots with 11 points and Caitlyn Jacobson added 10.
"We did very well as a team running the offense," Ashley Larson said. "Everyone got to play, and we got a chance to contribute and contributed well. We played good defense, and Nicole had five steals off the bat."
"Everybody came off the bench strong and played well," Rehfeld said. "The bench managed to keep the game going, the lead going. Nicole was really sick, but she played well."
The Crimson Bears will host the Capital City Classic this coming weekend. The Juneau girls play Alameda (Calif.) at 6 p.m. on Friday, defending tourney champion Wasilla at 6 p.m. on Saturday, then close out the tournament against Troy (Fullerton, Calif.) at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 30. A complete tournament schedule is on the Scoreboard on Page B2.
"That was very fun," McKoy said. "Those were very good first games for us. We'll be ready to play in the Classic. We're pretty confident."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CRIMSON BEARS 67, WOLFPACK 45
Saturday's girls game from West Valley High School
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS (67) - Alida Bus 1 0-0 2, Kendri Cesar 5 2-2 12, Heather Dillon 3 1-2 8, Amy Neussl 6 0-2 13, Danielle Larson 9 0-0 18, Nicole Lupro 0 0-0 0, Bianca Carpeneti 0 0-0 0, Mary Rehfeld 0 0-0 0, Letasha McKoy 3 1-4 7, Sophia Smith 1 0-0 3, Ashley Larson 2 0-0 4. Totals: 30 4-10 67.
WEST VALLEY (45) - Jenna Jones 7 0-0 16, Hallie Woods 2 0-0 6, Jamie Mireles 3 0-0 7, Kinlee Hawkins 3 0-0 8, Tawnie Attla 0 0-0 0, Shannon Pierce 0 0-0 0, Gabby St. Pierre 0 0-0 0, Alyssa Musgrove 0 0-0 0, Michaela Craft 3 2-4 8, Tacy Gillespie 0 0-0 0, Bess Evans 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 2-4 45.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 15 21 18 13 - 67
WEST VALLEY 11 12 7 15 - 45
3-point goals - Juneau-Douglas 3 (Dillon 1, Neussl 1, Smith 1), West Valley 7 (Jones 2, Woods 2, Hawkins 2, Mireles 1). Fouled out - None. Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Juneau-Douglas 10, West Valley 12.
CRIMSON BEARS 81, PATRIOTS 31
Friday's girls game from North Pole High School
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS (81) - Nicole Lupro 1 0-0 2, Kendri Cesar 5 0-0 10, Amy Neussl 5 5-6 15, Danielle Larson 6 3-4 15, Letasha McKoy 4 5-6 13, Alida Bus 3 1-2 7, Bianca Carpeneti 1 0-1 2, Heather Dillon 1 0-0 2, Mary Rehfeld 3 0-0 8, Sophia Smith 0 0-0 0, Ashley Larson 3 1-2 7. Totals: 32 15-22 81.
NORTH POLE (31) - Tanya Fitzgerald 0 0-0 0, Danielle Holt 0 0-0 0, Heather Halverson 0 0-0 0, Kelsy McIntosh 2 0-1 4, Aleece Stratford 0 0-0 0, Alicia Hamsley 0 0-0 0, Caitlyn Jacobson 3 2-2 10, Jillian Larson 0 0-0 0, Dessirae Richards 0 0-0 0, Kaycie Gebhardt 0 0-0 0, Stephanie Dahlke 5 0-0 11, Shardé Burkhead 2 2-8 6. Totals: 12 4-11 31.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 10 24 25 22 - 81
NORTH POLE 9 2 13 7 - 31
3-point goals - Juneau-Douglas 2 (Rehfeld 2), North Pole 3 (Jacobson 2, Dahlke 1). Fouled out - None. Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Juneau-Douglas 11, North Pole 16.