The Mariners were met with big crowds and tough competition last weekend at the Husky Shootout basketball tournament in Kotzebue, with the girls bringing home wins against Nome and Kotzebue, and the boys defeating Point Hope.
As wind chill brought temperatures down to minus-30 degrees on Friday and Saturday, crowds amassed inside the Kotzebue gym to watch three days of competition as Homer, Nome-Beltz, Point Hope and Grace Christian faced off against the Kotzebue Huskies. With the gym filled past capacity, spectators stood to watch the games, the loud and spirited crowd amping up the intensity.
“Every game was packed,” said the Lady Mariners’ Head Coach Chad Felice. “We’d like to see the gym filled like that at home.”
On Thursday night the Lady Mariners played Nome, a young, scrappy team with no senior athletes. The Mariners launched into the game strong, putting on full-court pressure, and pulled ahead in the first quarter. They continued to hold a solid margin over the Nanooks for the rest of the game, and came out with a 50-39 win.
Friday night’s competition pitted the Lady Mariners against the home team of Kotzebue during their senior night, a game that attracted even larger crowds than the rest of the tournament. The Mariners, who have demonstrated their ability to refocus and apply themselves at many points this season, didn’t let the pressure distract from their winning mission. They pulled ahead at the beginning and held control until the final buzzer announced a 49-26 victory for the Mariners.
“We played good team basketball, good defense, which is important because (Nome and Kotzebue) can shoot the three-pointers,” said Felice.
Felice also noted that the Mariners responded well to the increased physicality of the games against Nome and Kotzebue.
“It’s a much more physical game when you play up there than here. … When you go out to the Bush it’s a little different. I feel we adapted well,” he said.
On Saturday, the Lady Mariners faced off against Grace Christian for the second time, after losing the previous weekend’s match to the Grizzlies by four points. Saturday’s match got off to a slow start for both teams, the first quarter ending in a 6-6 split. The Grizzlies pulled away in the second quarter, but the Mariners caught up within three points by the fourth. Junior Kayla Stafford, whom Felice described as having a “breakout weekend,” found some crucial open shots to keep the Mariners in the game. It was a close, competitive race to the finish, with the Grizzlies coming out on top, sending the Mariners home with a 40-45 loss.
The Mariner boys fought out the weekend down three of their strongest senior players, as Kenneth Schneider, Drew Brown and Filip Reutov stayed behind to participate in a collegiate scouting event. Mariner Head Coach Nate Creel said their absence left room for some of the younger players to put in valuable time on the court, but they were missed most acutely on Thursday night when the Mariners faced off in a tough match against Nome.
The Nanooks pulled ahead early in the Thursday game, with several of their experienced and aggressive players claiming rebounds under the basket, getting up multiple shots before the Mariners could snag the ball away.
The Mariners struggled on the offense, having trouble landing their shots. They hung with the Nanooks for the first half of the game, but after halftime Nome’s lead extended, and the game ended in a definitive 77-32 loss for the Mariners.
On Friday night the Mariners played Kotzebue in match set to the rowdy and exuberant cheers of the home crowd. The game stayed close throughout, keeping the packed gym full of spectators in suspense until the final moments. Again, the Mariners struggled offensively to land their shots despite finding open moments to score. Instead, their game was fought out defensively. Sophomore Hunter Evens contributed greatly to the Mariners defensive success by holding the Huskies’ high-scoring point guard to a mere four-points for the majority of the game. In the final minutes of the game, Homer took possession of the ball, but rushed through their offense and failed the regain the lead. The game ended in a 39-32 loss for the Mariners, but, for Creel, the quality of play made it a success.
“We played great that game. I think Kotzebue is definitely beatable. … It was close right up until the end. We had a shot all the way through it,” he said.
During their final tournament game against Point Hope on Saturday, the Mariners were able to showcase the fluidity of team play they’ve been working to nail down all season. Creel gave credit to freshmen Cody Etzweiler and Jordan Beachy for stepping up their game on Saturday to set their team on a roll. The Mariners took control of the game early on and sealed it off four quarters later with a 57-44 win.
The smoothness of the Mariners’ play was in large part thanks to senior Jaruby Nelson’s skill in orchestrating the scoring opportunities of his teammates, said Creel.
“(Nelson) passed really well. He was able to see the floor, see the little opening and squeak the ball through there, hitting the guys right in the hand,” he said.
Nelson and his senior teammate Sheldon Hutt were two of the five players recognized as members of the all-tournament team on Saturday. Juniors Kayla Stafford and Madison Akers also were recognized on the girls team.
The Mariners will play another three-day tournament this weekend starting tonight, with the welcome change of tipping off on home turf. The girls take on Monroe Catholic at 6:30 p.m. at the HHS gym and the boys play Klawock at 8 p.m. Friday night both teams play Nikiski in conference games, followed by matches against CIA on Saturday.
See the Mariners in at-home basketball games this weekend:
Today: 6:30 p.m. Mariner girls vs. Monroe Catholic
8 p.m. Mariner boys vs. Klawock
Friday:6:30 p.m. Mariner girls vs. Nikiski
8 p.m. Mariner boys vs. Nikiski
SATURday: 2 p.m. Mariner girls vs. CIA
3:30 p.m. Mariner boys vs. CIA