As their second week of practice wraps up today, the Homer High School Mariner basketball teams are anxious to kick off the competitive season with games in Cordova on Friday and Saturday. Although practice officially started Dec. 1, both the boys and girls teams have been training at informal open gym sessions throughout the fall. Now that competition is just around the corner, the intensity of practices has amped up to match the conditioning and ball skills needed to score results.
Chad Felice, new head coach for the girls team, moved to Homer in July from upstate New York with his wife and young family. Felice, who played basketball at the community college level and has 11 years of coaching experience as both a middle school head coach and a high school varsity assistant coach, exudes a quiet confidence at the courtside.
Felice is working hard to adjust to coaching in Alaska. In addition to organizing fundraising for the first time, he also is getting used to Alaska’s lengthy travel times. The longest his team traveled in New York was two hours; this weekend’s Cordova trip requires seven hours on the ferry. The team travels as far as Kotzebue later in the season.
“Coaching up here is a lot different from New York,” he said. “The kids (in Homer) are more receptive to coaching. Basketball is real big up here.”
Despite the changes, Felice is optimistic about his move and the Lady Mariners’ chances this season.
“It’s a really great group of girls. They adapt well, they’ve made coaching easier,” he said.
The Lady Mariners are a relatively young team this year, but led by what Felice called “a good group of upperclassmen.” With a total of 21 players, there are only two experienced seniors and three experienced juniors returning.
With such a large group of freshmen and sophomores, Felice intends to have three or four girls swing between JV and varsity and the rest play at the JV and C team level
“I want to give them playing time, but I don’t want them to get beat bad and lose confidence,” he said.
The JV and C team will be led by assistant coach Zach Kudla, who moved with Felice from New York.
In practice this week Felice has been pushing conditioning and fundamentals such as shooting and screening.
“We’re trying to get them to touch the ball as much as they can,” he said. “As long as we’re conditioned we’ll be okay this weekend.”
Senior co-captain and varsity post Shelby Alexander has a good feeling about the season.
“I feel like we’re going to do really well. We don’t have the size but we do have the speed,” she said. Her goal for the season is simple: “Go to State.”
The boys team is led this year by Head Coach Nate Creel, who moved to Homer recently after graduating from Southern Utah University. While this also is his first year in a varsity head coach position, he has coached little league and freshmen teams in Idaho and Utah for several years, and shadowed his college basketball coach.
“My dad is a high school coach in Wyoming, I grew up in a coaching family,” he said.
Creel intended to play basketball in college, but when the opportunity to start his own pizza restaurant presented itself, he took a few years off instead.
“I’ve always stayed with basketball, but it’s been nice to get back into the gym,” he said.
Unlike the girls, the Mariner boys are an older group this year. Ten of the 26 players are seniors.
“With a lot of returning seniors and some big bodies we’re looking to be pretty strong this year,” said Creel. “The athletes that have come out are talented.”
He intends to keep 10-12 boys on the varsity roster with a few players swinging between varsity and JV. With such a large number of seniors, Creel is looking ahead to develop the younger athletes.
“There’s a gap between the seniors and the freshmen,” he said. “We’re really going to put a focus on the JV and C team to work on fundamentals.” Tim Daugharty will coach the JV team, and Curtis Hightower will coach the C team.
In the last two weeks of practice Creel has led structured practices, focusing on conditioning to get the athletes primed for games this weekend against Cordova.
“From what I’ve heard I feel we should do pretty well,” he said. “I know they’re gonna be fast and push the ball, that’s why we’ve been focusing on conditioning. I feel like we can definitely pull off wins this Friday and Saturday.”
The basketball schedule this season has the Mariners traveling for 13 out of their first 15 games. Their long treks will pay off, hopefully, with a home court advantage when Homer hosts Regions on March 5-7.
Their first scheduled home games are endowment games, which benefit the Alaska School Activities Association and don’t count towards the season’s 22 game limit or the teams’ standing at Regions. The Mariners will tip off at home against Kenai on Tuesday, Dec. 30.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
December varsity game schedule
Dec. 12-13: Boys and girls vs. Cordova
Dec. 18: Boys at SoHi vs. Palmer at 4 p.m., girls at Kenai vs. SoHi at 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 19: Boys at SoHi vs. Thunder Mountain
at 4 p.m., girls vs. Kenai at 7 p.m.
Dec. 20: Boys at SoHi vs. Seward at 1:45 p.m., girls at Kenai vs. Seward at noon
Dec. 30: Home vs. Kenai, girls at 6 p.m.,
boys at 7:30 p.m.