Southern peninsula schools find place in this weekend’s conference tourney

Last week’s basketball games wrapped up the Peninsula Conference season. Almost. This weekend is the conference tournament. Next weekend is the state championship.

Representing the southern Kenai Peninsula in the conference tournament are girls teams from Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik and Seldovia, and boys teams from Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik and Seldovia.

The Nikolaevsk Warriors girls team took a step closer to the conference tournament with games against the Cook Inlet Academy Eagles on CIA’s home court Feb. 26. The Eagles owned the first period of play with a score of 4-1 when the buzzer sounded. By halftime, the score was 11-9 in CIA’s favor, but with Nikolaevsk beginning to close the gap.

“The girls had a tough time getting going, but put it in gear for the second half,” said Bea Klaich, head coach for the Nikolaevsk girls team.

In the third period, the Warriors found their footing, picking up 13 points to the Eagles’ four. By the final buzzer, Nikolaevsk had a comfortable 34-25.

Meghan Hickman was the top scorer for the Warriors, with 13 points. Co-captain Serafima Kalugin and Nadejda Gordeev had the second highest points, each adding eight.

The Nikolaevsk boys had a harder time of it and CIA took the game 61-47. Neil Gordeev ran into foul trouble, and the boys team head coach, Steve Klaich, pulled him from the game. Before leaving the floor, Gordeev was third-highest scorer for the Warriors with seven. Co-captain Felemon Molodih added 11 and Jonah Fefelov was the high-scorer with 15 points. 

The Seldovia Sea Otters lured CIA back onto the court the following day. The Eagles girls team soared off with a victory over the Seldovia girls, 42-22, but the Seldovia boys dominated CIA 72-46.

Also on Feb. 27, the Ninilchik Wolverines sharpened their basketball moves against Birchwood Christian, with a double victory, the Ninilchik girls winning 39-24 and the boys winning 74-45.

Rod Van Saun, head coach for Ninilchik’s girls team, credited the Wolverines’ interior passing and penetration.

“Our three forwards — Melissa Ehlers, Olivia Delgado and Jordan Finney — did well and all scored in the double figures,” said Van Saun. “Finney got 16 rebounds. She perceives really well and is strong and wants the ball.”

Van Saun also credited guards Alanna Goins and Krista Sinclair for doing a good job distributing the ball.

Nick Finley, head coach for Ninilchik’s boys team, credited the team’s solid defense.

“It was really our defense intensity that picked up,” said Finley. “In the second half, we were able to put a good half together and put them (Birchwood Christian) away.”

The following day, Ninilchik was on Lumen Christi’s court, with the Archangels girls team claiming a 35-20 victory over the Wolverines.

“We just weren’t focused going into that game,” said Van Saun. “Lumen Christi played a really good game and we just didn’t answer. They outmuscled us, outworked us, everything. It was their senior night and they came out with four seniors who really wanted to win and they got it.” 

The boys game reversed the tables for Ninilchik, the Wolverines scoring a 62-17 victory. Finley brought his second string onto the floor in the second half of the game and was impressed with what he saw.

“They were able to hold Lumen Christi to one field goal the entire second half. Pretty impressive,” said Finley. “It’s not like they’re going to go out there and put up a ton of points, but they go out there and they play hard. They lay it all on the line.”  

The boys bracket of the Peninsula Conference Tournament began with a 10:30 a.m. game Wednesday between Lumen Christi and Nanwalek, the winner then facing Seldovia at 8 p.m. At 6 p.m. today (Thursday), the winner of that game faces the winner of a game between Ninilchik and Birchwood played at noon Wednesday. 

 “Right now, our focus is one game at a time,” said Finley. “After we play that game on Wednesday we’ll see where we go from there.”

The Nikolaevsk boys’ first game in the tournament was scheduled to be against Wasilla Lake at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. 

“Wasilla Lake is tall, athletic and shoots the ball well,” said Nikolaevsk Coach Steve Klaich. “We need to come ready to play with our ‘A’ game. … I am optimistic that our improvements on the defensive end of the court will make a large impact in the outcome of the game.”

The winner of that game is scheduled to play at 8 p.m. today (Thursday) the winner of a Wednesday game between Cook Inlet Academy and Kodiak ESS.

On the girls side of the action, the tournament bracket had Ninilchik playing Lumen Christi at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.  

“We’ve got to play the team that just beat us on the court they just beat us on,” said Van Saun. 

The winner of that game will face Nikolaevsk today (Thursday) at 1:30 p.m.

Also on Wednesday, the Seldovia girls played CIA, the winner of that game facing Birchwood at 5 p.m. today.

The boys championship game is played at 6:30 p.m. Friday, with the girls championship game following at 8 p.m.

The first and second place boys and girls teams of the Peninsula Conference Tournament will play in state competition in Anchorage, March 14-17.

McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.