A basketball court normally runs 94 feet in length and 50 feet in width.
With a roster full of speedy players, the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team plans to use every square inch of the space this season.
"We want to use our athleticism to pressure the ball and run with it," Crimson Bears coach Lesslie Knight said. "That is our intention."
The Crimson Bears (2-0) host the Spokane, Wash., NBC Thunder, a collection of all-star players, at 6 p.m. tonight in the opening game of the Capital City Classic. JDHS will then take on Palmer on Thursday and Troy, from Fullerton, Calif., on Saturday.
Knight's squad opened the season with a pair of wins over Homer on Dec. 15-16. This weekend, however, will feature bigger crowds and much more excitement.
"The excitement of the Classic always brings a new, refreshing energy," Knight said. "One of the things our young people haven't experienced, especially our freshmen,
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is coming out to the pep band and the crowds. Against Homer they were pretty relaxed. I think you'll see a little more nerves with the excitement level increasing."
Juneau will carry three freshmen on the roster this year, but a familiar face to fans will be leading the team.
Talisa Rhea, the state's two-time player of the year, looks to close out her high school career on a high note. The 5-foot-10 guard led JDHS in nearly every statistic last season as the Crimson Bears finished third overall.
She also signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball for Oregon State University in November.
With her college plans taken care of, Rhea is free to solely concentrate on helping her team return to the state tournament in Anchorage.
"It's nice to have all that out of the way," Rhea said. "It's kind of stressful. To be able to just focus on the season is nice."
On the court, Rhea is the unquestioned leader of her team. Her ability not only to score, but to rebound, defend, pass and dictate the flow of a game makes her an incredibly dangerous player.
After almost exclusively playing point guard last season, Rhea bounced around a couple of positions against Homer and may be used in a variety of fashions this season.
One of the reasons Rhea can move around the floor more is the emergence of Kayla Harrison. The sophomore serves as a spark plug for the team, providing intense defense and the ability to bring the ball up the court.
"She's got a ton of energy," Rhea said of Harrison. "Just having someone to bring the ball up is a nice relief every now and then. It'll be nice, especially if we're pressed, and if someone else can help out."
Another option at point guard is Mahlet Tingley, one of the Crimson Bears' three talented freshmen.
Tingley didn't score against Homer but made her impact on the game by getting steals and playing nonstop, full-court defense.
Another freshman, Brittany Fenumiai, can also handle the ball and find open teammates with a slick pass. Due to a left knee injury, however, Fenumiai is likely to miss the Capital City Classic.
Corey Mulder, the tallest freshman of the three, can score and rebound but boasts the quickness to play Knight's aggressive style of defense.
Home games in bold
Dec. 15 56-28 win over Homer
Dec. 16 53-23 win over Homer
Dec. 27-30 Capital City Classic
Jan. 5-6 vs. Sitka
Jan. 10 at Wasilla
Jan. 11-13 at East Tournament
Jan. 19-20 at Ketchikan
Jan. 26-27 vs. Service
Feb. 1-3 at Dimond Tournament
Feb. 7 vs. Kenai
Feb. 16-17 vs. Ketchikan
March 2-3 at Sitka
March 7-10 SE Tourn. at Sitka
"It's fun; it rushes your adrenaline a lot," Tingley said of the Crimson Bears' defensive style. "You steal the ball, make it, and it feels really good. Your teammates keep pumping you up, talking to you. It's really supportive."
Speed, intensity and quickness should be three of the Crimson Bears' best attributes this season. Nevertheless, the one aspect of Juneau's game that may be the most important is rebounding.
The Crimson Bears may be quick, but they aren't exceedingly tall. With no player on its roster taller than 6 feet, JDHS must work extra hard to protect the offensive and defensive glass.
"I think rebounding is critical for our wins," senior forward Veronica Lietz said. "We have some height but not as much as other teams might. We've won and lost games because of rebounding. It's a huge aspect."
Joining Lietz in the paint will by seniors Andrea Doerflinger and Hannah Buck, along with junior Nicole Fenumiai.
All four players played extensively in last season's drive to third place in the state. Their toughness and technique in the paint could be the difference between winning and losing close games this season.
The forwards enjoyed a fine debut to the season, limiting Homer's star center, Reba Temple, to just 17 points and 15 rebounds in two games.
"Teams all over are usually bigger in the post than us," Knight said. "I think they did an incredible job on Reba from Homer. Being that our posts are 5-9, 5-10, they have to defend bigger players, so they have to be physical and focus on blocking out."
With five straight Southeast Region Class 4A championships and a state title in 2005 to their credit, the Crimson Bears have been a perennial contender for the state's highest honors.
This year, the expectations are no different.
"I think they're pretty high," Rhea said. "The people coming in have filled the roles of the people that left last year. I think we have a good shot at being one of the top teams in the state."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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