BSSD basketball teams participate in March Madness

The culmination of the high school basketball year and the end of many hoop dreams comes in spring season known as “March Madness”. The ebb and flow of the almost four month season is replaced with the stark reality that each game could be the last. Six Bering Strait teams traveled to the 2016 Basketball 1A & 2A ASAA Tournament, each with their own level of expectation but all with the hopes of getting hot and winning three or four games and bringing the ultimate trophy home.

The 1A classification in the state of Alaska is by far the largest as it contains all schools with a high school population of 60 or less. Due to this large number it is the only one that is allowed 16 state tournament representatives and needs an additional day to settle matters.  Bering Sea Conference Champion Shishmaref Lady Northern Lights and Elim Eagles brought state veteran squads anxious to show that lessons from previous years would pay dividends. The Lady Aklaqs from Teller and Wolverines from Shaktoolik had remarkable years and, regardless their runner up regional status, had no less anticipation.

The opening round of the tournament wasn’t kind to the two boys teams as they both met formidable foes. The Wolverines met a much taller Minto Lakers team and jumped on them early running out to a large first quarter lead but found themselves struggling to hold on as the interior size of the Interior Alaska team took hold and prevailed 47-44. Captain and All-Tournament selection Everson Paniptchuk did all he could tallying 30 points and 11 rebounds in the effort. The Eagles valiantly fought a strong Northwest Arctic champion Noatak Lynx squad and succumbed 64-58 after strong games from Devin Nakarak and Ralph Saccheus.

The smaller school girls representatives fared better in the first round as both Bering Sea teams emerged with victories. Teller, behind 15 points and 13 rebounds from freshman Lindsay Weyanna, controlled Manokotak while the Shishmaref squad showed their team superiority led by Gussie Olanna’s 15 points and 12 rebounds, and won 61-49.

The second day results didn’t improve as both boys teams faced strong teams who’d also been disappointed the first day. Noorvik big man Quincy Williamson dominated the paint with 17 rebounds and 7 blocks and only Wolverine Ethan Evan could mount any offense at all as the Wolverines fell 45-27 and were eliminated.  Elim fought through three quarters and led a physically larger Hydaburg going in the final frame, again led by Nakarak and Saccheus “double-doubles” but couldn’t hold off the Warriors late and were eliminated 62-53.

The BSSD ladies did not repeat first day successes as the competition improved. Teller met the 2015 champions from Wainwright and could not match the dominance of Kai Nashookpuk’s 29 points falling behind in the 4th quarter to lose 58-41. The Shishmaref gals fought to the end against the Aniak Halfbreeds before the time ran out in overtime, 51-45.

Friday’s matchup between the Lady Northern Lights and Lady Aklaqs was a friendly grudge match. The more experience Shishmaref team had defeated their rivals at both the sub-regional and conference tournaments in overtime thrillers and this third match didn’t disappoint. The lead went back and forth with each team’s fans rising and falling with each successful shot or missed opportunity. Freshman Sarah Stenek’s tenacious defense and 16 points proved critical as the Northern Lights shone one more time eking out the victory 33-32 to remain alive in the consolation bracket.

The final day of the tournament found Shishmaref facing a larger, stronger team from the Kenai Peninsula, the Nikolaevsk Warriors.  The battle-experience Northern Lights didn’t flinch, though, and used speed to stay even throughout the game. For the second time in the tournament the game the ladies found themselves in a draw at the end of four quarters and extended the game to overtime. Again, they came up short and lost in a heartbreaker 50-45.

The larger 2A classification didn’t start until Thursday due to fact that they only play an 8-team bracket. The competitive landscape has changed significantly in recent years as larger schools have come “down” and greatly increased the level of play. Recent 3A powerhouses Petersburg and Cordova made their appearances in their first year of 2A play. Conversely, Bristol Bay, Pt. Hope and Unalakleet all brought both boys and girls teams from programs that are actually 1A size but have chosen to “opt up” to play stronger competition, and schools that are three to four times larger.

The Lady Wolfpack ran into a strong Nenana Lynx squad they had face a month previous and could not contain them losing 49-23.  Eight-grader Jewel Wilson continued to show great potential with solid offensive and defensive presence.

The Unalakleet boys faced the defending state champion Glenallen team and were not intimidated. Behind the offensive performance of Arctic Ivanoff and the interior play on both ends of fellow junior Kadyn Erickson, the Wolfpack jumped out to a large lead and then held off the Panthers, 57-53.

Second round play for the Unalakleet girls meant survival against a veteran Dillingham team and the smaller Wolfpack girls couldn’t match the Wolverines strength. Seniors Ada Harvey and Kirstian Haugen fought hard with strong contributions from Wilson again but fell 53-42 in a season-ending defeat.

A win in the semi-final game for the Wolfpack boys would mean a championship game ticket but a very tall, strong Petersburg team stood in their way. Only Ivanoff was able to muster much offense against the very aggressive defensive effort by the Vikings and Unalakleet was on the short end of the score at games end, 56-39.

A third place Saturday matchup was the final game for BSSD teams when the Unalakleet boys met another much larger school, Cordova. This game featured much drama both on the court and from the loud, large fan contingents from each school. It seemed that everyone knew that this was for pride and the last game of the year. Again overmatched size-wise, and without the full services of two starters, Jayden Wilson and Taylor Harvey, who were both injured, the Pack fought valiantly to stay close through much of the game.  David Johnson found his long distance range with three triples to help Ivanoff (19 points) keep the Unalakleet team in the game but in the closing minutes the Cordova team pulled away to win 69-55.

March Madness is over for the small schools and teams are already looking ahead to the hope of the next season. Seniors reflect on their high school careers and younger players look forward to stepping up to meet new responsibilities.  Congratulations to these six teams on very successful years.

The Nome Nugget

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