With the Homer Mariner girls basketball team poised to head to the 3A State Tournament in Anchorage this week, three southern Kenai Peninsula small-school teams began on Saturday playing in the 2015 March Madness Alaska 1A State Tournament: the Seldovia Otter boys team and the Nikolaevsk Warrior girls and boys teams.
The Wells Fargo Gym on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus and the new Alaska Airlines Center were filled with the deafening cheers of hundreds of loyal fans who traveled from across the state Saturday as the 16 girls and 16 boys teams launched into the opening round of play.
Seldovia was the first south peninsula team to take the court, scoring a 65-45 victory over their first tournament opponent, the Kotlik Falcons. The Nikolaevsk Warriors girls team faced the Akiak Thunderbolts and scored a 51-21 win. The Nikolaevsk boys wrapped up their game against the Noorvik Bears with a score of 48-33.
Seldovia’s game could be summed in one word: clean.
“That’s the way we wanted it,” said Head Coach Mark Janes. “I wish we could have kept Kotlik down a few less points. They are really athletic and ran up and down the court really well.”
Seldovia got the jump on the action less than a minute into the game when Seth O’Leary scored an opening two-pointer. Kotlik was quick to respond, however, setting the pace for a quarter that ended with a 17-17 tie.
By the half, Seldovia’s teamwork was clearly evident as the Otters pulled ahead, 37-22, and continued to lead through the third quarter, 47-30.
As the end of the game drew near, the on-court action increased, as did the noise from the fans. Even with Seldovia holding a comfortable lead, the Bears pushed hard to close the gap, but to no avail.
Janes described Seldovia’s Monday opponent, the Manokotak Lynx, as “a very fast team. They can shoot the lights out with the ball. … They love to press, steal the ball and shoot beyond the arch. They’re a very exciting team.”
The Otters’ win over the Lynx had Seldovia two games away from the tournament championship, beginning with a game against Anaktuvuk Pass on Tuesday.
The Nikolaevsk Warrior girls close teamwork was evident during their opening game against Akiak as the ball would be quickly passed from one end of the court to a player positioned under the basket at the other end of the court. It was a move frequently repeatedly in the Warriors’ favor.
“We work on passing quickly down the court in order to try and get transition baskets,” said Nikolaevsk Head Coach Bea Klaich.
The overall difference between the two teams’ approach to the game added to the on-court excitement.
“We like to set up some set offenses that are dictated by whatever defense the other team plays,” said Klaich. “For example, if they are in a particular zone, we run certain offenses. If they are in a man defense, we run other things. Akiak’s approach was more of a ‘run and gun’ approach, relying on their speed and their athleticism. They had one girl that we knew we had to stop so I put a good defender on her, Vera Fefelov, and it worked.”
Nikolaevsk broke the ice only seconds into the game with a two-pointer, closely followed by a second basket before Akiak made it to the scoreboard.
The quarter ended with the Warriors leading 19-6, and the half with the Nikolaevsk team still ahead, 31-14. During the third quarter, the Warriors soared to a 43-16 lead and ended the game at 51-19.
That victory was followed by a loss to the Selawik Wolves on Monday, putting the Nikolaevsk girls into the bracket for fourth place.
“Selawik is a very quick team that can put up a lot of points in a hurry,” said Klaich. They shoot the ball very well and seem to be a balanced team.”
While the tournament sites in Anchorage — both at Wells Fargo and at the Alaska Airlines Center — are much larger than the Nikolaevsk teams are familiar with, it didn’t distract the small-school team from the task at hand.
“I was very pleased that the girls came out strong and didn’t seem to be intimidated by the ‘big stage.’ When they play confident, good things happen,” said Klaich.
Trying to follow the play-by-play action of the Nikolaevsk boys opening game against Noorvik was entertaining, to say the least. Repeatedly, from within a snarl of fast-paced activity, a Nikolaevsk team member would emerge in control of the ball.
“Nikit (Fefelov) and Neil (Gordeev) have incredible quickness, different than speed,” said Head Coach Steve Klaich.
“They have a knack for getting their hands on the ball. Felemon (Molodih) and Jonah (Fefelov) have a toughness to dig the ball out of a scrap. I can’t really explain it, but it works for us.”
Noorvik got a fast jump in Saturday’s game, first to the board with two points, but Nikolaevsk responded with a three-point shot, taking the lead and not letting up. The first quarter ended with Nikolaevsk ahead 12-4. By the half, the Warriors held the lead at 24-12 and after the third quarter were still ahead, 33-20.
The back-and-forth action in the final period of play had the fans screaming loudly as Noorvik fought hard to close the gap. The pressure in the last two minutes of the game saw the Bears miss free throws and the stack up fouls as the Warriors shot to a 48-33 finish.
With so many teams competing, Steve Klaich said the tournament offered an opportunity to see how Nikolaevsk’s game of defense and passing matched other teams’ style of play including a focus on rebounding, outlet pass and fast-break basketball.
“The great part of the Alaska School Activities Association state tournament is seeing how the styles work together and which style prevails,” said Steve Klaich.
After losing Monday’s game to Angoon, a Southeast team described by Steve Klaich as a tough, well-coached team that always plays hard, the Nikolaevsk boys began their battle to a tournament fourth place.
For the state competition bracket for the 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A games, visit asaa.org/sports/basketball/.
McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 March Madness Alaska 1A Basketball Tournament Update
Seldovia and both Nikolaevsk teams won their Tuesday games. The Seldovia Otters claimed a tight 56-55 victory over Anaktuvuk Pass and a right to compete with Scammon Bay for first place in the State championship game at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday. The Nikolaevsk boys had a 60-51 win against Elim and advanced to play Manokotak for fourth place at 11 a.m. Wednesday. The Nikolaevsk girls won their game with Shishmaref, 42-39, and also proceeded to a game for fourth place, playing St. Mary’s at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Results for Wednesday’s games were not available by press time. Visit Homer News on Facebook for an update.