Tok tourney provides wins, growth for Ninilchik squads

As Olympic athletes prepared for the long road to Sochi, so did basketball teams from Ninilchik as they traveled 12 hours one-way to compete in the Tok Mix-Up over the weekend at Tok High School. The Wolverines finished 2-2, as the Lady Wolverines nearly swept their opponents, going 3-1 on the weekend. Their one loss came at the hands of host school Tok, 29-28.

The tournament wound up being a great opportunity for both teams to see different brands of basketball from schools they would normally never get matched against in preparation for the final countdown at Regions the first week of March. The Lady Wolverines had a definite height advantage on the inside with sophomore Jordan Finney and senior Jessica Rogers manning the post, but, according to Coach Rod Van Saun, every team was faster than them.

“We basically had to slow the games down and thrive on our size,” Van Saun said. 

Fast break points were few and far between for the Lady Wolverines, but set plays to post inside provided for ample opportunity.

“That being said, we definitely need to work on finishing around the basket still, and taking care of the ball, which, in the game we lost, turnovers really hurt us,” said Van Saul.

Finney was phenomenal for the Lady Wolverines, racking up 19 points and 20 rebounds in the win over Fort Yukon, 53-27. The other games for the Lady Wolverines included wins over Effie Kokrine Charter School, 36-34, and a win over Tri-Valley School, 55-25.

On the boys side of the ball, the 12-hour drive provided for some sluggish play as they lost to Fort Yukon 67-39. The Wolverines only had 10 points at halftime of that first game, with freshman center Austin White responsible for all of them. White averaged 20 points over the weekend, and was the anchor for the offense throughout.

“They jumped on us early, but the next day came back and lost a close one to Minto (eventual champion) 59-51,” said Coach Nick Finley.

Austin, fellow freshman Tyler Presley and senior Tyler Thorne all had solid games against Minto, giving Finley’s squad some much-needed confidence going in Regions.

“We were just two totally different teams this tournament, we showed up one day and the next day we didn’t,” Finley said.

Even in the loss, Thorne was able to shut down Minto’s best player before getting hurt just before halftime.

“Overall that was our best game of the tournament, Minto was the best team and we played the best against them,” said Finley. 

The next day was much better for the Wolverines as they downed Huslia 58-32 and only had 14 turnovers, which is something Finley has been working on with his squad. In the final game, the Wolverines took care of the host team Tok, 44-21. Turnovers were key in that game as well and, according to Finley, the lower the amount of turnovers, the better the outcome.

“For our young team, if we can keep the turnovers under 20, we do pretty well,” Finley said.

On the season, the Wolverines are averaging around 24 turnovers per game. 

For the Lady Wolverines, Rogers averaged 21 points per game to lead all scorers, with Finney and sophomore Melissa Ehlers rounding out the scoring with nine and five points per game. 

For the boys, aside from White, Presley led all scorers with 11 points per game; senior Robert Delgado added 7.25 and Thorne chipped in 6.5.

Rogers and Finney were named to the girls All-Tournament Team and White and Presley represented the boys. The Lady Wolverines also took home the Sportsmanship Award.

The next games for the two ball clubs were at home Tuesday night against Kenai JV and Homer JV with another home game for the Lady Wolverines on Friday against Bristol Bay.

Mike Tozzo is a special services teacher at Ninilchik School and a freelance writer.