Though official practice for the Mariner boys and girls basketball season began about two weeks ago, both teams haven’t spent much time off the court this year. Both teams play their first games of the season Dec. 15-17. The boys will play at the Soldotna High Tip Off while the girls compete at the Kenai Classic Tournament.
With the help of open gyms facilitated by girls basketball head coach Chad Felice over the summer, many boys and girls team players were scrimmaging up to three times a week. Boys basketball head coach Weston Carroll teamed up with Felice for open gyms in the fall, three mornings each week. The practice was voluntary, but about 12-15 players from each team took advantage of the time to prepare.
Mariners’ girls basketball made it to the state tournament at the end of the 2015-2016 season and played all the way to the championship game — the first time in 25 years that the Mariner girls played in a championship game. The team fell to their opponent, the Barrow Whalers, losing 49-26.
Homer High’s boys basketball team’s season ended in the region tournament where they lost to Seward and Nikiski. The team was made up primarily of sophomores last season, which now come back to play the 2016-2017 as juniors. The team also sports three seniors this year.
Girls eager for return to state
After graduating six seniors from their team in May, the Mariner girls basketball team is ready to compete this season. With the open gyms providing plenty of preparation, the biggest challenge facing the team is nerves, Felice said.
“There will be girls who are nervous. We put in a lot of minutes in the off-season and they need to believe they are ready,” Felice said. “(I’m) letting (the varsity team) girls know that if they weren’t ready for varsity level, they wouldn’t be up with me. If they know I believe in them then it’s a little bit easier for them to believe in themselves.”
Uliana Reutov returns as a starter this year and other teammates, including Alyssa Cole, Rylyn Todd, Cora Parish, Maggie Box and Kaylee Veldstra will also step up as key players this season, Felice said.
The girls have their eye on the state tournament again, hoping this time to make it all the way. Reutov feels confident with all the work done during the off-season and the girls’ close knit relationship with each other will help them this year.
“Everyone’s been putting in a lot of work throughout the summer and this school year,” Reutov said. “I can’t wait to see how we actually play with other people. The Kenai tournament’s going to be fun. It’s going to be good to get going.”
Felice believes that the disadvantage of losing six seniors, which included four starters, will play to their advantage this season in terms of other teams’ expectations.
“I’m not too worried,” Felice said. “I think the best thing we have going for us is a lot of teams will be like, ‘They lost four starters’ and they’ll come and be like, ‘Homer’s not as good as they used to be,’ and then they’ll play us and be like, ‘Oh what happened?’”
Boys look to bring Homer back
The nature of high school sports means that a young team one year can become a team full of upperclassmen the next. Homer’s boys basketball team is an example of this, as its primarily sophomore roster from last year now makes it a team of many juniors. Additionally, the team has seniors Hunter Edens, Justin Ellison and Kenny Cortez.
“We’re more experienced and the kids have gotten a year older and the coaches agree that we have an older group and a younger group coming in that has good experience too,” Carroll said. “We have good kids at all the age levels so I’m excited about that. … Everybody’s a year older and a year stronger.”
With plenty of off-season practice under their belts, the team has been focusing on preparing plays for their upcoming games, Carroll said.
Edens is confident that the boys can pull off a winning season this year. The main disadvantage the team has this year is height, but Homer’s players make up for it in heart, he said.
“We’ve known each other since we were younger. We’re best friends. We’ve got that chemistry together,” Edens said. “We’re going to kick butt this season and show everyone that Homer’s back.”
Though a team of friends could potentially spend too much time horsing around, the team is working hard and working well together to stay motivated, Cortez said. Overall, the seniors are looking forward to finishing their high school career together.
“We’ve been playing for a long time so it will just be fun to finish senior year with this group we’ve been playing with since senior year,” Ellison said. “I’m just looking forward to having fun.”