Three days of basketball, 12 teams, 22 games. That’s exactly what organizers of the Ninilchik Invitational Basketball Tournament were looking for and that’s exactly what they got. They also got an enthusiastic crowd that, by the time of the championship games on Saturday, filled the gym to standing-room-only capacity.
The day began with a tired Ninilchik Wolverine girls team, having already played four tournament games, facing Tok, also Wolverines. That match-up ended in a 72-47 victory for Tok and advanced them to the championship game against the Unalaska Raiders. The Raiders secured a 55-43 tournament victory.
On the boys side of the action, an intense match-up between the SoHi Stars JV team and the Ninilchik Wolverines ended with a 76-66 victory for SoHi. That was the sixth game for the Stars, who had lost to Unalaska earlier in the tournament and then unfailingly worked themselves back through the consolation bracket to end up securing first place.
“That SoHi JV team is really solid,” said Ninilchik boys Head Coach Nick Finley.
“And they’re well-coached by Doug Blossom, an alumnus from Ninilchik. He’s a really good coach.”
Finley, in his fourth year coaching the Ninilchik team, praised his team.
“We did really well. We scored 66 points and that’s normally enough to win a game, but we just couldn’t stop them on defense,” he said.
An obvious standout for Ninilchik was Austin White, a 6-foot-8-inch sophomore.
“He’s not only tall, he’s pretty skilled for playing for only two years,” said Finley.
He referred to Tyler Presley, also a sophomore, as “the floor general” who helps control the tempo of the game, and Sam Mireles, the team’s only senior, as “our motor that keeps us going.”
Even an ankle injury in the second quarter of the game couldn’t stop Mireles.
“At the start of the second half, we went without him and it was tough without having him on the floor. … He has the mentality of going 110 percent. He doesn’t give up,” said Finley.
The same could be said for the Ninilchik boys team, as a whole.
“The thing I was happiest about was at one point in the game, we were down by 18, but we never gave up,” said Finley.
“That’s what I’m really proud of. The kids just keep on fighting until the very end.”
The demanding tournament format was the eventual undoing of the Ninilchik girls team.
“That’s what ultimately got us. We mostly played five, maybe six deep and that many games played with that few players is tough,” said Rod Van Saun, head coach of the Ninilchik girls team.
The format also offered a valuable challenge.
“We wanted to create a more competitive tournament where you had to play off to a championship, emulating what you have to do when you play at Regions or State,” said Van Saun.
“And as the tournament goes on, the level of competition increases because there’s a championship on the line. It really tests your fortitude.”
The Ninilchik girls “learned they could win two big games in one day,” said Van Saun, referring to games played Friday against the SoHi JVs and Sand Point, “both tough teams, both very aggressive. To come out and win both those games in one day and advance was big for my kids. They grew as a team. It highlighted areas we need to improve and just toughened us up.”
It also gave the teams an opportunity to play before a large crowd.
“That was the most packed I’ve ever seen the gym. That’s what a championship tournament does for you. That’s what it’s all about,” said Van Saun.
This week, Ninilchik heads to Talkeetna for the Su-Valley Tournament. Participating teams includeAniak, King Cove, Tanana, Su-Valley and Nenana.
“In our first round, we have a tough match-up with Nenana. They’re just coming off winning their own tournament, beating the Nikolaevsk girls in the championship game,” said Van Saun. (See related story, page 18.)
“We’ve got our hands full. It should be pretty good.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
skills competition winner:
3 point winners: Justice Krukoff, Unalaska; Melia Miller SoHi JV
Post move winners: Vincent Naanos, Unalaska; Melissa Clark tied with Jordan Finney, Ninilchik
Free throws: Riley Kruse, SoHi JV; Melissa Clark, Ninilchik
Dunk competition: Austin White, Ninilchik
all-tournament team (boys):Sam Mireles, Ninilchik; Tyler Presley, Ninilchik; Vincent Naanos, Unalaska; Ben Enlow, Unalaska; Ian Samuelson, King Cove; Austin White, Ninilchik; Kyle Marcuson, SoHi JV; Austin Hetherington, Kalskag; Casey Griffin, SoHi JV; Josh Demit, Tok
all-tournament team (girls): Kanesia Price, Unalaska; Brittney Alsup, Tok; Jordan Finney, Ninilchik; Alana Goins, Ninilchik; Louisa Seman, Unalaska; Katrice Thomas, Tok; Justina Parami, Sand Point; Claire McElroy, SoHi JV; Kristin Levi, Kalskag
mvp: Derek Evans, SoHi JV; Marina Olson, Unalaska
handler award (most heart): Ben Enlow, Unalaska; Brittney Alsup, Tok