Sophomore Alanna Berry, left, and Junior Jenny Strassburg for the Ketchikan Lady Kings attempt to block a shot from JDHS sophomore Shaylin Cesar.

Sophomore Alanna Berry, left, and Junior Jenny Strassburg for the Ketchikan Lady Kings attempt to block a shot from JDHS sophomore Shaylin Cesar.

Southeast volleyball teams size up competition at Jamboree

Inspired by Thunder Mountain softball’s state championship this spring, Falcons volleyball is trying for a first of their own: a Region V title and a trip to the state tournament.

Thunder Mountain, who split two games with Juneau-Douglas and beat Ketchikan twice at this weekend’s volleyball jamboree, know they’re up against stiff competition.

“This year is going to be a battle,” head coach Arnold Ibias said. “All three teams (in Region V) are strong and whoever shows up on a particular night is going to win.”

All of the Southeast Region V 4A teams (Kayhi, TMHS and JDHS) attended the pre-season jamboree. None of the games counted toward regular season standings, but were more a chance to “get used to the reps, lineups and size everyone up,” according to JDHS coach Lesley Kalbrener.

Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain varsity split a pair of tight games while Ketchikan fell in all four of their games. The Lady Kings didn’t travel with three of their key seniors due to prior engagements and both Ibias and Kalbrener expect them to be in the mix for the Region V crown.

TMHS center Mary Landez, one of the leaders in Ibias’ strong junior class, thinks the Falcons benefit from their underdog status and the added incentive of being the first Thunder Mountain volleyball team to head to state.

“A good thing about having a team that hasn’t gone to state is there’s no pressure,” Landez said. “But we definitely want to be the first ones to go.”

Landez and other Falcons leaders convened a team meeting early this season to discuss their goals and expectations. No coaches allowed. Ibias credited the meeting with helping his team “gel earlier than expected.” Landez said it helped set the tone for what she says is going to be an exciting race between TMHS, JDHS and Ketchikan.

“We talked a lot about what we would need to do to win and have a positive attitude,” Landez said. “It helped us get a good dynamic going. … Ultimately we’d like to go to state, but overall we just want to have a good season. We want to start a system going so we can have a good two years.”

Last year, the Falcons finished third at regions behind JDHS and Ketchikan, with Ketchikan winning Region V. Only the Region V champion gets a berth to the state tournament on Nov. 10-12 at a location to be determined later.

For Crimson Bears junior Abby Meiners, the road back to the state tournament starts with communication, something she said has previously been a stumbling block.

“We’ve struggled a bit in the past communicating on the court, but this year we have a good connection so I think we’ll be fine,” Meiners said. “I think we have a pretty good defense and our serving is really good. We need to work a little more on offense.”

Kalbrener, taking over for varsity home games in her first season coaching, said she saw an impressively cohesive team at the jamboree, something necessary for a “mental game” like volleyball.

“We went into this with the goal of working on our mental game and attitude and these girls have just been so excited about every game and every play,” Kalbrener said. If you have a team that gets down on themselves and lets it show — it’s contagious. But these girls are very mentally strong.”

JDHS will need to be particularly mature this year as they graduated several excellent volleyball players last year, including the college-volleyball-bound Maddie McKeown. Program director and coach Leslie Knight, who will coach the varsity at away games, said the jamboree was an opportunity to identify emerging talent from their JV team to bolster their eight-person varsity squad.

TMHS travels to Sitka for their first regular season games on Sept. 2 and 3. Playing games on those same dates, JDHS starts their season off in Ketchikan.

• Contact Sports and Outdoors reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com.

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