Nikolaevsk’s Megan Hickman signs to play with UAF Nanooks

Another collegiate hoops team is getting a Warrior. Megan Hickman, a five-year starter for the Class 1A Nikolaevsk girls, put pen to paper April 13 in front of a crowd of friends and family members and signed her commitment to play college basketball at the Division II University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Hickman, a crafty point guard, became the second Nikolaevsk girls player to continue her playing career in college, joining 2014 graduate Nianiella Dorvall who moved on to play at Skagit Valley College, in Mount Vernon, Wash.

Nikolaevsk girls coach Bea Klaich said Hickman’s signing was just the latest achievement by a basketball program that has emerged as one of the leading contingents at the Class 1A level in the state. Hickman was named the 1A Girls Player of the Year in 2015-16, joining Dorvall as Nikolaevsk players with that accolade.

“It’s an incredible feeling for everyone,” Klaich said. “It used to be that our athletics program was about just having fun, and not really realizing they had the potential to compete at a high level.”

Hickman credited the team and family atmosphere in helping to spur her to greatness with the Warriors, and the Nikolaevsk family continued to show their support Wednesday by showing up in droves for her signing ceremony.

“It’s pretty great,” Hickman said via phone while traveling to Anchorage for Saturday’s AABC Senior All-Star game. “My friends were there, my little sister was there, it was great having everyone there.”

Klaich said she expects Hickman will fit in nicely with the Nanooks program in the fall.

“I know it’s a huge step for her. It’s not going to be easy going from any high school program to Division II ball, but she has the tenacious desire to get court time,” Klaich said. “She’s very coachable. Her defense from her sophomore year on made her one of my best defenders.”

Hickman wasn’t intimidated at her tryouts for the Nanooks, partly because she didn’t realize they were a Division II team until later, she said.

“I was originally going to go for a junior college school and I contacted Fairbanks and I didn’t realize they were a D2 school. I started talking to them and they asked me for a tryout and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to say no to it.’ I went up there and tried out and they asked me to sign,” Hickman said.

The UAF women’s team is coming off a 12-18 campaign that saw them finish eighth of 11 teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings in 2015-16.

Hickman said she made her decision to join the Nanooks after a visit to the UAF campus in early April, where she participated in a tryout hosted by head coach Cody Bench. Bench told the Homer News she could not comment on Hickman’s signing at this time.

The final incentive for Hickman is receiving a $12,000 academic scholarship with the UA Scholars Program, which awards financial assistance to Alaska high school students. Hickman is planning to major in elementary education. Hickman also is a recipient of the Alaskan Performance Scholarship, which will provide additional funding toward her education, she said.

While Hickman and Dorvall represent Nikolaevsk’s first two female basketball players to sign college commitments, two boys players helped open the door. Polikarp Kalugin was the first Warriors player to compete at the NCAA level, and the 1997 Nikolaevsk graduate was later joined by 2005 grad Stephan Nikitenko.

Hickman will also join 2013 Soldotna High School graduate Kaillee Skjold, a native of Kasilof who will enter her fourth season with the Nanooks in the fall. Hickman said after visiting with her future teammates a few weeks ago, she realizes the learning curve will be steep, but it’s one she will relish.

Klaich said the journey Hickman took from a timid eighth-grader to a dynamic high school senior didn’t happen overnight, but it was a “radical” change.

“She started as a bench player her eighth grade year, but with a fervent desire to get out there and get as many minutes as she could,” Klaich said. “She would ask, ‘How many minutes can I get?’”

After three seasons as a bench player and learning from the best, including Dorvall and Sophia Kalugin, Hickman made the transition to starter her junior year. Though Hickman had the desire to play college ball before she even started high school, she was unsure about her chances at first.

“Since eighth grade and going on to high school I’ve wanted to play at a upper level but then halfway through high school I realized that I could really do it,” Hickman said. “It clicked, the passion for basketball clicked.”

This past season, Hickman led the Warriors her senior campaign by averaging 14.3 points per game with 44 percent shooting from the floor. Hickman has been to the state championships with Nikolaevsk five times during her career with the Warriors and looks back on one particular loss with fondness because she got to play the game.

“My freshman or sophomore year we made it to the championship game and, I wasn’t a starter then, but we ended up with triple overtime,” Hickman said. “We lost but the triple overtime was amazing because I got to play all of it.”

Joey Klecka is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. Homer News reporter Anna Frost contributed to this story.