The Nanwalek boys basketball team will make its first appearance at a state basketball tournament tonight when the Eagles take on Scammon Bay at 7:45 p.m. in the first round of the Class 1A event at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
Head coach Kevin Seville started the program 14 years ago. March 5, Nanwalek defeated Cook Inlet Academy 42-32 in the second-place game at the Peninsula Conference tournament to earn a historic berth to state for the community at the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Seville said the town has about 280 people.
“It was wonderful,” Seville said of arriving home after securing the state bid. “We arrived to a standing ovation from community members. People were slapping us five. There was excitement and enthusiasm because of what happened. History was made.”
Now comes Scammon Bay, which is located on the West Coast. Scammon Bay appears regularly at state, with a runner-up finish in 2015, a sixth-place finish in 2007 and a tie for seventh in 2016. Scammon Bay is seeded fourth at the 16-team tournament, while Nanwalek is 13th.
Seville said Scammon Bay was finishing up practice Tuesday as his team arrived. He noticed Scammon Bay has a team of 12. Nanwalek has just six.
“They’re probably going to try and run over our six players,” Seville said. “If we control the tempo and the boards, we’ll be OK.”
The Alaska Airlines Center, which can seat 5,000, is obviously quite a change for Nanwalek.
“I was in shock and awe when I went out to do our practice,” Seville said. “I think once the boys sized up the floor, and started to make shots shooting into different backgrounds, they focused on the task at hand.”
The team has three seniors. Tikhon Kvasnikoff has played for three of four years, while Julius Kvasnikoff and Alexander Jimmy are first-year players. Also suiting up for Nanwalek will be Matthias Evans, Cruz Kvasnikoff and Sean Moonin.
“A trip to state is a pretty awesome experience and it’s something they’ll surely cherish for the rest of their lives,” Seville said. “It’s a historic moment for our program and for our community. We want to make sure we represent the community with grace and dignity.”
Seville said it took more than these six players to nab the state bid.
“I’d like to acknowledge all the former members of the team as pillars and cornerstones of the program,” Seville said. “As much as this trip is for these young men, the program is in good hands because of the years of service my former kids put in. I’d like to thank them for their years of service.”