Former Crimson Bears Rhea and Francis to be inducted into high school hall of fame

For the third year in a row, at least one Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bear will be represented in the annual Alaska High School Hall of Fame induction class.

The Alaska School Activities Association announced recently that Talisa Rhea and Leah Francis will join George Houston (class of 2017) and Chad Bentz (class of 2016) in the state’s hall of fame.

Rhea starred on the Crimson Bears girls basketball team from 2004-2007, a period in which the Crimson Bears never finished lower than third place at the state tournament. Rhea and JDHS secured the third state title in program history in 2005.

As a junior and senior, Rhea was named Alaska 4A girls player of the year. Rhea said she takes pride in being from Alaska and was humbled when she received news of the award.

“I was really excited and of course very honored to even be thought of,” Rhea said by cellphone. “I guess too it means I’m getting kind of old to be considered. Ten years out now, it’s kind of crazy.”

Rhea went on to play four years of Division I basketball at Oregon State University and Seattle University. Despite only playing three seasons with the Beavers, Rhea is the program’s 12th all-time leading scorer, averaging 15 points per game as a junior.

But before she was a Beaver or Redhawk, she was a Crimson Bear. And her college basketball experience hasn’t overshadowed her high school one.

“I just remember our home games and the gym being full and the student section being super loud and there not being a huge difference (in crowd) between the girls games and the guys games,” Rhea said. “Everyone came out to support and I just remember feeding off of that energy and just the environment that we had at home games and how unique that was to the rest of the state.

“But also being down in Washington (state) and seeing some of the high school stuff there. What we had in Juneau was pretty special and I definitely realize that now.”

The 2007 JDHS graduate is now the Manager of Basketball Operations for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.

Like Rhea, Francis also found early success in her sport which she continued to build on as an upperclassman.

The 2010 JDHS graduate won three state 4A girls titles in cross country and was just as successful on the track. Francis was a three-time state title winner in the 1600-meter and three-time state title winner in the 3200-meter races.

The two-time Gatorade Player of the Year awardee said the winning came at a cost. Francis said she had trouble coping with the anxiety over winning races.

“I think what I’m really proud of is the amount of vulnerability it took for me to step on the line and race in high school,” she said. “It was really hard. I’m proud of myself for keeping at it and I’m just really grateful that I made so many good friends and had the support of such awesome coaches.”

Francis went on to run at Stanford University, where in 2015 she graduated with an English degree in creative writing. She said she’s not the avid runner she used to be, but that’s how she prefers it now. Francis ran her last marathon in October and sometimes trains with other marathon runners.

The memories that stick with her from her illustrious high school career are not standing on top of the podium.

“When I was in high school, the winning mattered to me so much it was making me vomit before races,” Francis said. “Now, I’m just like, ‘Wow,’ what a fun time with my friends.”

She now lives in Seattle and is training to be a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills coach.

Both Rhea and Francis say they plan to be in attendance for the April 29 ceremony in Anchorage.

Southeast Alaska’s Kyle Fossman (Haines High School) and Cameron Severson (Petersburg High School) are two of the three other former athletes going into the hall this year.

There are now just shy of 140 individuals in the Alaska High School Hall of Fame since its establishment in 2006. The hall includes categories for athletes, coaches, administrators, officials, activity participants, contributors and lifetime achievement awardees.