Fresh off its victory in the Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament two weeks ago, the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team is ready to make it two tournament titles in a row as the Crimson Bears host the Princess-Capital City Classic this weekend.
The Crimson Bears (3-0 overall) will host the Mills Vikings of Millbrae, Calif., the North Kitsap Vikings of Poulsbo, Wash., and the Wasilla Warriors in their attempt to reclaim the title of Juneau's signature tournament. Juneau won the tournament two years ago, but last year the Crimson Bears took second place after they lost 61-54 to the Gig Harbor (Wash.) Tides.
Juneau opens the tournament against Mills at 6 p.m. on Thursday, plays North Kitsap at 6 p.m. on Friday and hosts Wasilla in a key intra-state rivalry game at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The other girls games pit Wasilla vs. North Kitsap at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Wasilla vs. Mills at 1 p.m. on Friday and Mills vs. North Kitsap at noon on Saturday. The teams will take tours with Princess at 10 a.m. on Friday and will compete in skills contests at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
"I'm so excited, I can't wait," Juneau center Hilary Rehfeld said as she and several teammates watched the Juneau boys team's Red-Black Scrimmage last Friday. "I'm really excited to be in front of the home crowd. We played really, really strong at Nikiski. It was a good season-opener for us."
Rehfeld, a 6-foot-2 senior, was one of four different Crimson Bears to post double-figure scoring during one of the games at the Nikiski tourney, and she was the only player to do it twice. Rehfeld made the all-tournament team, while 5-3 senior guard Suzanne Parr earned the tournament's MVP award. Kendri Cesar, a 5-4 sophomore guard, and 5-10 senior forward Anna Capacci also scored in double figures during the Nikiski tournament.
"I was surprised, because all of us were playing great," Parr said of her award. "It was a good experience, getting rid of our beginning of the season jitters."
The Crimson Bears will see head coach Jim Hamey back on the bench this weekend after he missed the Nikiski tournament because he went to Seattle for back surgery. While Hamey was out of action, assistant coach Leslie Knight ran the team. Hamey said he's still a little bit sore, but he's been at all the practices since he returned to Juneau last week.
"I definitely think there's an advantage having played a bit before the tournament," Hamey said. "But there are still a number of things we need to work on. Passing into the post was real light, and we're still trying to be a higher-scoring team."
Juneau should be stronger this weekend as 5-11 junior forward Amy Neussl returns to the lineup after missing the Nikiski tournament with the flu. Kacie Murphy, a 5-10 senior forward, is still out of action as she recovers from an ankle injury.
"I'm sad I missed the trip, but I'm excited for my first game," Neussl said. "I shoot from outside and hopefully we'll be able to get our inside-outside game going."
"We didn't have so much of an outside game going, but it was great when Anna came off the bench to score 10 in a row," Rehfeld said. "It's good to have some depth in our bench."
When Juneau plays Mills (5-5 overall) it will face a young team that's already played 10 games this season. Katie Burroughs, a 5-9 junior guard, leads Mills with 13.2 points and 11.2 rebounds a game. Lavinia Fanaika, a 5-7 freshman point guard, averages 6.9 points and 4.3 rebounds a game, while 5-10 senior post Jillian Scialanga averages 6.9 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.
Mills coach Kelly Shea Gallo said her team is excited about the trip and has spent the past nine months raising money through car washes, lollipop sales, candy sales, shoot-a-thons and it will host a youth basketball clinic in January. Her team posted a 12-16 record in 2000-01.
North Kitsap also has several games under its belt, but is struggling with an 0-7 record this year after going 10-10 last season. Sheena Brundage, a 5-10 junior center, leads North Kitsap with 9.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. Hailey Koivu, a 5-8 junior guard, is averaging 8.4 points a game, while 5-9 senior guard Sarah Bergman averages 7.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, and 5-8 senior guard Jesica Bento adds 6.1 points, 3.6 assists and 2.3 rebounds a contest.
North Kitsap coach Dan Weedin said 5-8 junior forward Sierra Urie had been injured, but might be ready to play this weekend. He said his team lost its last two games by a total of five points and had a chance to tie the game on its final possession, but couldn't do it. He said he had a breakfast meeting with the team, and it's over the disappointment of the two losses and is anxious to play in Alaska.
Wasilla is the team Juneau's most familiar with, having lost a 53-49 decision in overtime to the Warriors at last year's East Anchorage T-Bird Classic. Wasilla (1-0 overall) opened its season with a 74-28 victory over West Anchorage on Dec. 19.
The Warriors will have the biggest lineup in the tournament, with four 6-footers on their roster. Brittney Kroon, a 6-4 senior center, scored 17 points to lead Wasilla against West, while 6-0 junior forward Marsha Schirack added six points and 10 rebounds. Tonya James, a 5-7 senior guard, added 16 points and transfer 5-8 sophomore guard Chandice Cronk scored 15 points. When she was a freshman at Class 2A Northway last year, Cronk scored 50 points in a game.
When Juneau played Wasilla last year, Kroon was just returning to action from a rare liver disease that has her on a waiting list for a liver transplant. Kroon was sidelined by foul trouble for much of the first half, but was a force in the second half. Schirack scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead Wasilla, while Kroon added 11 points and six rebounds and James added seven points and eight assists. Neussl scored 15 points to lead Juneau, while Rehfeld had eight points and nine rebounds. Juneau led 44-40 with just over a minute to play, but allowed Wasilla to tie the score. The Warriors won the overtime period 9-2 to win the game.
"I think our girls have a good sense of how important team chemistry is," Hamey said. "We talked a lot about playing together, and working together to do the little things it takes to win. I think we have a chance to have a pretty solid season. Wasilla will be real strong, and Schirack really killed us last season."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.