Thunder Mountain High School’s Kara Strong (16) knocks the ball past Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Evelyn Richards (12) and Remi Starks (2) during the two local teams’ play-in game to reach the championship of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at JDHS on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School’s Kara Strong (16) knocks the ball past Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Evelyn Richards (12) and Remi Starks (2) during the two local teams’ play-in game to reach the championship of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at JDHS on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

TMHS finishes second, JDHS third as Chugiak repeats as champs at JIVE tournament

Crimson Bears overcome season-long struggles to make semifinal against high-flying Falcons.

This story has been updated to correct that Klawock High School is a 1A division school, not 2A.

Both of Juneau’s high school teams made it to the play-in for the title game in the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza (JIVE) on Saturday, before Chugiak High School repeated as champions in a title game rematch against Thunder Mountain High School.

The TMHS Falcons — missing two players, including their top performer at a tournament two weeks ago — and Chugiak Mustangs battled each other fiercely during the two-day tournament, with each winning matches leading up to their final confrontation. The Falcons were tied late in the first set and had a lead late in the second of the championship game, but ended up losing both to the Mustangs.

Chugiak High School’s Catheryn Townsend deflects the ball back across the net against Thunder Mountain High school during the championship game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Chugiak High School’s Catheryn Townsend deflects the ball back across the net against Thunder Mountain High school during the championship game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

TMHS volleyball coach Julie Herman said the two missing players may have been a factor in a narrowly decided title game, but the players who filled in did so admirably.

“We missed them, but we showed (Chugiak) a new side and we’re very proud of the way they competed,” she said.

Also putting up a fierce fight were the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears, who have struggled all season and were 2-25-1 (0-7 in the three-team 4A Southeast Conference) entering the tournament on their home court. But the team scrapped its way to a third-place JIVE finish by reaching the Gold Bracket semifinal against TMHS (21-6-4 overall, 7-0 in the conference entering the tournament), losing to their crosstown rival in two straight sets.

“They had some really good games this weekend,” JDHS coach Jody Levernier said of her players. “They still have a ways to go and they still have a lot of potential that they have not fully realized.”

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé volleyball coach Jody Levernier confers with her players during a timeout in their semifinal game against Thunder Mountain High School in the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at JDHS on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé volleyball coach Jody Levernier confers with her players during a timeout in their semifinal game against Thunder Mountain High School in the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at JDHS on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Another team making an intriguing showing was tiny Klawock High School, a 1A Southeast Conference team which had a single reserve player on its bench, which won the Silver Bracket championship by solidly defeating larger teams including Ketchikan High School’s junior varsity squad in the title game.

The 10-member all-tournament team included three players from TMHS (Ashlyn Gates, Jenna Dobson and Zoey Moore), one from JDHS (Gwen Nizich) and one from Klawock (McKinley Holien) — plus four from Chugiak (Elise Kelley, Reese Luke, Rylee Kahler and Addi DeCaro).

Juneau’s two high school volleyball teams face each other on one court while two out-of-town teams play on a second court Saturday afternoon in the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. Another gym in the school allowed three games at once to be played during the tournament. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Juneau’s two high school volleyball teams face each other on one court while two out-of-town teams play on a second court Saturday afternoon in the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. Another gym in the school allowed three games at once to be played during the tournament. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain, missing two players, again reaches the title game

During last year’s JIVE tournament the Falcons were the top-seeded team as they faced the second-seeded Mustangs in the title game, losing in what the tournament director called an “epic finale” by scores of 22-25, 25-23 and 15-13. This year the tables were turned as Chugiak was the top team and TMHS second entering their rematch.

The Falcons also were missing two players including senior Jayden Rosenbrunch, one of eight players on the all-tournament team at the 2023 West Spiketacular Tournament two weeks ago. That meant senior Kara Strong had to fill in for Rosenbrunch, playing both longer and out of position throughout the weekend, but she said it still felt the team matched up well against Chugiak.

“I feel like our defense was really, really good, and so was our serve receive passing,” she said before the Falcons faced Chugiak for what turned out to be the first of two times in double-elimination bracket play on Saturday. “I feel like we just need to bring more offense, maybe a little bit. They’re really good team — we’re evenly matched, I feel like — and so I think that as long as we just play our best and we bring our energy.”

Thunder Mountain High School volleyball coach Julie Herman, right, celebrates with her players as they take a late lead over Chugiak High School in the second set of the championship game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School volleyball coach Julie Herman, right, celebrates with her players as they take a late lead over Chugiak High School in the second set of the championship game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Falcons defeated the Mustangs in their initial matchup Friday before losing the second, which Strong said occurred at about 10 p.m. so fatigue was a factor. Leading up to the first bracket game with Chugiak on Saturday she and her teammates were relaxing in the balcony overlooking the main gym, trying to recharge.

“I feel like we try to rest as much as we can,” she said. “And a lot of us do other sports, too, so I feel like we kind of know the drill on this.”

The challenge with the matchup against Chugiak wasn’t just about who’s got the most talent, said Hillary Nguyen, a senior also stepping in to fill in due to the absence of her teammates.

“They have really tall players and they play very smart too, they’re always aiming for weaknesses,” she said. “And we’re working on them of course, but they’re very good at spotting those. I feel like our setters are on the shorter side and we get blocked out a lot by their really tall players.”

Chugiak beat TMHS in straight sets during the afternoon game, winning the first decisively before the Falcons kept the score closer in the second. That put TMHS into an elimination semifinal against JDHS, which notched one of its highlight moments of the season by beating Ketchikan (8-15-4 overall, 3-3 in the 4A conference) in an elimination game.

A Chugiak High School player writes the school’s name into the next round of Gold Bracket play after the team won its first game of the double-elimination portion of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A Chugiak High School player writes the school’s name into the next round of Gold Bracket play after the team won its first game of the double-elimination portion of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Although JDHS has kept a few sets close against TMHS in earlier matchups this year, the Falcons continued their perfect record against the Crimson Bears by advancing to the title rematch against Chugiak in straight sets. Meanwhile, since the top-seeded Mustangs were able to bypass a mid-afternoon play-in game before the evening championship, coach Cera Jondrow was able to study video from the previous TMHS tournament matchups at length.

“I watch all the game film and I analyze it,” she said before the team’s multihour break. “And then I watch it again and then analyze it some more I see where there’s holes. I see who the soft blocker is, I see where the passer is struggling and I have my girls specifically aim there…We make adjustments to our block, we change our game, and my girls are so flexible and so adaptable they are able to change it on the fly.”

While Herman said she does the same thing for the Falcons, she had less time to do it and the squad had less time to rest up for the finale.

Chugiak High School players celebrate their victory in the championship game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Chugiak High School players celebrate their victory in the championship game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Chugiak jumped out to a quick 8-3 lead and kept the gap at about the same margin during the next 10 points by each side. But then the Falcons rallied furiously to tie the score at 19-19 before the Mustangs called a timeout and scored the next four points. TMHS made a last effort to narrow the score to 21-23, but Chugiak won the first set 22-25.

The second set started as an even dogfight with the teams tied at 9-9, then the momentum swung the Falcons’ way as they took a 14-10 and then 18-15 lead. But the Mustangs staged a rally of their own to tie the score at 19-19, and kept up the pace to win the set and championship 20-25.

“There was a couple of runs where they still put more points than us,” Herman said. “When you’re converting one to two points, and the other team’s getting three or four the math doesn’t always add up. But the pursuit of our goal is to go out and play very, very hard with a no-back-down attitude. And we did that today. As I’ve mentioned it’s about the wins, about how we played and we grew this weekend. We were challenged this weekend and we’re still in pursuit of big dreams here.”

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Kiah Yadao (5) knocks the ball past Thunder Mountain High School’s Jenna Dobson during their semifinal game in the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at JDHS on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Kiah Yadao (5) knocks the ball past Thunder Mountain High School’s Jenna Dobson during their semifinal game in the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at JDHS on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

JDHS takes the bronze on its home court

The Crimson Bears had a tougher climb to the semifinal after losing their opening bracket game to the Falcons, putting JDHS into an elimination match against Ketchikan High School’s varsity, which has prevailed in most matchups against Juneau in games and tournaments this season. But Levernier said she felt good about her team entering bracket play after going 2-3 in the preliminary rounds Friday and early Saturday — including “a really good first set against Chugiak” in a game Juneau ultimately lost.

“The girls are just starting to play the way we know they can play, more consistently, so they got themselves a few more wins under their belts,” she said.

Thunder Mountain High School players celebrate making it to the title game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé after defeating JDHS in the play-in game on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School players celebrate making it to the title game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé after defeating JDHS in the play-in game on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The team emerged with an upset win over Ketchikan by switching the lineup and rotation a bit, said Remi Starks, one of five Juneau seniors. But the Falcons with nine seniors continued their undefeated streak against JDHS to end the Crimson Bears’ season.

“I’m proud of the way we played,” Starks said. “It was a little surprising, but we pushed hard through the weekend. And I’m happy we at least got third place throughout the whole tournament.”

When asked what will make the rest of the season a success, she said “successfully winning one game against TM.”

“Probably just a little more communication in our team, bringing just a little more competence,” she said. “We have the strength to play hard. I just think if we just get a little more confident we might win a game against them.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

More photos from the 2023 Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza

Klawock High School’s volleyball team (in black), which had a single reserve player on its 1A conference squad, faces off against the junior varsity squad of Ketchikan High School, a 4A conference team with a deep bench, in a Silver Bracket game Saturday afternoon during the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. Klawock won the game and would go on to win the Silver Bracket title in a rematch against Ketchikan that evening. Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Klawock High School’s volleyball team (in black), which had a single reserve player on its 1A conference squad, faces off against the junior varsity squad of Ketchikan High School, a 4A conference team with a deep bench, in a Silver Bracket game Saturday afternoon during the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. Klawock won the game and would go on to win the Silver Bracket title in a rematch against Ketchikan that evening. Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School’s Jenna Dobson (4) tries to get the ball past Chugiak High School’s Keira Burrell during the championship game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School’s Jenna Dobson (4) tries to get the ball past Chugiak High School’s Keira Burrell during the championship game of the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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