Victories at last week’s Peninsula Conference tournament at Skyview High School in Soldotna have the Seldovia Otter boys team and Nikolaevsk Warriors girls team headed to 1A state basketball championship games in Anchorage this week.
The Otters won the conference tournament after defeating Nikolaevsk’s boys team, 43-39. The Nikolaevsk girls maintained their unbeaten season record with a final victory against the Cook Inlet Academy Eagles, 37-20.
“They surprised themselves,” Seldovia Head Coach Mark Janes said of his team. Janes also was honored at the tournament by being named the boys teams’ “coach of the year.”
“(The Otters) knew they had the potential, but at the same time there was always that doubt that these other teams were bigger and there were a lot more of them, so they just muscled down and pulled through,” he said.
Having won all their conference games this season, the Nikolaevsk girls team found themselves in the enviable position of only having to play two tournament games, but that didn’t lessen the thrill of victory.
“It was an exciting tournament all the way around,” said Nikolaevsk Head Coach Bea Klaich.
For their second-place peninsula wins, the Nikolaevsk Warriors boys team and the CIA girls team also will advance to state competition. Games begin Saturday, resume on Monday and continue through Wednesday.
The Soldotna location of the Peninsula Conference games made it possible for fans of the winning teams to make their presence known.
“It was crazy, so loud in the gym you could hardly hear yourself think,” said Coach Klaich. “It was packed at Skyview. There was lots of support.”
Even for the Seldovia team, traveling to the central peninsula from the south side of Kachemak Bay, plenty of fans were on hand.
“There were some Seldovia expatriates that came down from Anchorage, a few locals living in the Kenai area and a few families that could make it across (the bay), so it was nice and noisy,” said Coach Janes. “And the Seldovia girls team was there, too, supporting us.”
This week, the Otters and Warriors have been sharpening their basketball skills, focusing on their weaknesses and studying the other teams as they’ve prepared to take their games to the next level.
“We have the honor of opening the tournament at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, playing Selawik,” said Coach Janes. “That’s way early.”
To help the Otters prepare, Janes scheduled 8 a.m. team practices this week, “getting them awake so they can see what it feels like to play basketball that early. They’re not really thrilled with that, but they want to win, so I think they’ll knuckle down.”
The Nikolaevsk girls open with a Saturday game against Buckland.
“I’ve been doing a little homework on Buckland and they’re definitely a solid team,” said Klaich. “I think we have a really tough match-up right out of the gate, so we’re preparing for that. (The Warriors) are doing good. I know we have the focus and they certainly understand that it’s not going to be a cakewalk at state.”
The all-conference awards for the Peninsula Conference were announced at the end of the tournament. Recognized from the southern peninsula were:
Mark Janes, Seldovia, coach of the year.
Aidan Philpot, Seldovia, MVP.
Jaruby Nelson, Nikolaevsk; Aidan Philpot, Seldovia; John Romanoff, Nanwalek; Neil Gordeev, Nikolaevsk: all-conference first team.
Austin White, Ninilchik; Calem Collier, Seldovia; Tyler Presley, Ninilchik: all-conference second team.
Nikit Fefelov, Nikolaevsk: free
Calem Collier, Seldovia: three-pointers.
Aidan Philpot, Seldovia: academic team.
Calem Collier, Seldovia; John Romanoff, Nanwalek; Jaruby Nelson, Nikolaevsk; Neil Gordeev, Nikolaevsk; Sam Mirales, Ninilchik; Austin White, Ninilchik; Anthony Yakunin, Nikolaevsk: all-tournament team.
Nianiella Dorvall, Nikolaevsk; Jessica Rogers, Ninilchik; Sophia Kalugin, Nikolaevsk: all-conference first team.
Kilina Klaich, Nikolaevsk; Jordan Finney, Ninilchik; Serafima Kalugin, Nikolaevsk: all-conference second team.
Nianiella Dorvall, Nikolaevsk; Kayla Stafford, Nikolaevsk; Krista Sinclair, Ninilchik; Mikayla Clark, Ninilchik; Olivia Turner, Seldovia: academic team.
Kayla Stafford, Nikolaevsk; Jessica Rogers, Ninilchik; Nianiella Dorvall, Nikolaevsk; Serafima Kalugin, Nikolaevsk; Krista Sinclair, Ninilchik; Olivia Turner, Seldovia; Marina Chissus, Seldovia; Alanna Goins, Ninilchik: all-tournament team.