The Mariners matched up against Seward last Friday for the second time this season, the boys taking home their second victory over the Seahawks and the girls losing another close, hard-fought game. To the coaches and the crowds, however, both contests showed significant improvement in cohesive team play for the Mariners over the past month.
The Mariner boys, who beat Seward by only one point in late December, led Friday’s game from the first quarter to finish with a significant 59-42 victory.
The boys’ head coach, Nate Creel, was really pleased with Friday’s game. He has noticed that as his players have become more comfortable with each other, their collective game has become smoother.
“They played all four quarters not letting up. … They are starting to play together and getting used to the different combinations I’m putting on the court,” said Creel.
Seward landed the first shot of the game, but after that the Mariners took control, finishing the first quarter 18-10, and going into halftime up 10 points. They came out even stronger in the third quarter, increasing their lead to 48-30 by the end of the period, and maintaining an 18-point margin until the final buzzer.
Creel was quick to credit senior Sheldon Hutt for his high-scoring efforts on Friday. Hutt contributed 28 of the Mariners 59 points.
“The ball seemed to go to (Hutt) in that game,” said Creel. “He was all over the rebound, making good, strong moves to the basket.”
Senior Jaruby Nelson also played an important role in Friday’s game. He contributed 12 of the Mariners total points, but more importantly, saw opportunities for his teammates to score.
“(Nelson) played excellent for me. He really contributed with the passes, the way he was distributing the ball and moving it around,” said Creel.
The Mariners head north this weekend to take on Grace Christian, ACS and Houston in three conference games.
“I’m anxious to see how our boys stack up against them,” said Creel. “It’ll be competitive of course, but if we keep playing as a team, we’ll do well.”
The Lady Mariners showcased the depth and flexibility of their team on Friday when they faced off against the Seahawks with only eight players, missing two of their strongest athletes, senior Larson Fellows and sophomore Mariah Hendrickson, due to sickness.
The team has dealt with a shifting roster at many points this season, and has become adept at maintaining their composure with new combinations on the court. Friday’s game was no exception, as senior Celeste Fairbanks and junior Grace Kann came off the bench to replace their absent teammates and played well, said the girls’ head coach, Chad Felice.
The Mariners were ahead most of the game against Seward, going into halftime with a sizeable lead. They managed to maintain their lead up until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the Seahawks surprised them with a strong 12-point run to the finish.
“We were up by six going into the fourth quarter when we ran out of gas,” said Felice. “We just fell apart mentally and they beat us on the rebounds.”
The 40-36 game was a loss for the Lady Mariners, the same four-point margin they lost to the Seahawks in their first match, a little more than a month ago. Felice was impressed with his players’ efforts and resiliency, however, and not too concerned about the final score.
“My impression is that our league is very tough. Anybody can win any game on any given night,” said Felice.
Junior Madison Akers led the Mariners with 12 points, and sophomore Sofia Clark contributed 7 points.
The Mariners junior varsity and varsity girls and boys teams travel north to face off against Grace Christian today, with games at 3, 4:30, 6 and 8 p.m.
They play ACS on Friday, with games at 3, 4:30, 6 and 8 p.m.
On Saturday, they face Houston, with games at 10 and 11:30 a.m., 1 and 2:30 p.m.
Felice expects tough competition from the valley teams, but feels the Mariners are well prepared for the challenge.
“If we play our game, we can match up with anyone in the state,” he said.
Next weekend, the Mariners continue playing on the road with games against Kotzebue, Nome and Point Hope, Feb. 5-7.
Their next at-home games will be during the Homer Winter Carnival, Feb. 12-14, with participating teams from Cook Inlet Academy, Nikiski and Klawock.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer. The Peninsula Clarion contributed to this article.