There are rumors of things that live beyond Egan Drive, past Mendenhall Glacier and over the horizon of Stephens Passage.
Beasties with three-handed jump shots; hulking creatures with elbows that can sever a man’s (or ladies) head from neck and torso; dastardly critters with breath that smells of Icy Hot and Ben Gay; wretched thingies that crouch low in the shadows and spring up without warning to snatch the life from unsuspecting travelers.
Such is the land of the ASAA state basketball tournament.
And there be dragons that await our lads and lasses venturing there.
And Lynx and Cougars.
The WPI (winning percentage index) seedings were announced on Sunday by those wicked kings on the thrones of the Alaska Scholastic Activities Association.
Various feudal lords won their respective region tournaments and seek to conquer the court north.
The Southeast Conference’s victorious Juneau-Douglas High School boys and girls; Cook Inlet Conference’s Dimond Lynx and runner-up West Anchorage Eagles (girls) and Dimond and runner-up Bartlett Golden Bears (boys); Northern Lights champions Wasilla Warriors and runner-up Soldotna Stars (girls) and Wasilla and runner-up Colony Knights (boys); and the Mid Alaska Conference champs West Valley Wolfpack (girls) and Lathrop Malemutes (boys).
ASAA implemented two At-Large WPI berths this year. On the girls side they went to the Northern Lights Conference’s Colony Knights and the Palmer Moose. This is the first time four teams from one conference have made the state basketball tournament.
The boys WPI berths went to Cook Inlet’s Service Cougars and Northern Lights’ Kenai Kardinals.
The WPI measures strength of schedule and how a team does against that schedule. It does not measure margin of victory or game location, only whether a team wins or loses. It is similar to the NCAA’s RPI (ratings percentage index) used in the NCAA tournament selection and seeding. The basic WPI formula is 50% team winning percentage and 50% opponents’ winning percentage. Only games against other Alaskan schools are counted.
Following are the bracket seedings based on WPI and instate records:
Boys – 1. Wasilla (18-0) vs. 8. Lathrop (11-6); 4. JDHS (18-3) vs. 5. Service (20-4); 3. Bartlett (15-4) vs. 6. Colony (13-9); 2. Dimond (23-0) vs. 7. Kenai (10-7).
Girls – 1.Wasilla (20-1) vs. 8. Palmer (9-8); 4. Soldotna (15-3) vs. 5. Colony (15-9); 3. West Valley (18-3) vs. 6. West Anchorage (17-7); 2. Dimond (21-0) vs. 7. JDHS (13-9).
The Crimson Bears will face their most daunting task to date, against foes that have vanquished them earlier in the year, the Service Cougars (boys) and Dimond Lynx (girls).
The JDHS girls played the Lynx the first week in February and at Dimond. The game was close at 12-9 after the first quarter. Six JDHS turnovers in the second quarter resulted in the Crimson Bears being outscored by 12 and trailed 32-17 at the half. They would lose the game by 16 points, outscoring the Lynx in the third period, staying even in the fourth and losing 54-38.
“Dimond is definitely beatable,” JDHS coach Dee Boster said. “Out defense has improved and gotten more intense.”
The Crimson Bears didn’t have Kaitlin Fagerstrom at the time and Gabi Fenumiai had just returned to the roster and the Lynx double-teamed her inside. JDHS was not prepared to shoot the ball from the perimeter.
Fagerstrom will give another outside scoring threat with Esra Siddeek and another defender on the perimeter with Marissa Brakes, Kymberlee Kelly and Sierra Tagaban. Fenumiai has seen multiple double teams since that game and has adapted. Dimond will run on the heels of Alexis Rogers, Tara Thompson and Aminata Cole.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us but everybody is beatable,” Boster said. “If we play the way we have been; then we have a very good chance of getting the job done; winning is not impossible. We must be patient on offense, something we did well at regions. . It was the Dimond game that brutally showed us we needed other people to step up and shoot the ball from outside; it was that game that made us incorporate way more shooting into our practices to get people Kymberlee, Marissa, Sierra and Kaitlin to SHOOT the ball. We have improved on that and hopefully will have more offensive threats; which hopefully will make it harder for Dimond to double team Gabi and be more aware of others on the perimeter.”
The JDHS boys played the Cougars on February 1 and lost 67-60. The Crimson Bears trailed by two, 15-13, starting the second period and tallied 23 points in the second stanza to take a 36-30 halftime lead. Phillip Fenumiai hit three triples in that run and had 17 points for the game while Alec Calloway, Austin Shoemaker and Lance Ibesate added 10 apiece and Tony Yadao seven. This is significant because the Cougars like to run and so do the Crimson Bears, and both teams play a hard defensive brand of full court plunder. JDHS went 19-22 from the charity stripe in that contest and SHS went 24-38. The Crimson Bears led 50-46 starting the final period, when they were outscored 21-10.
“Service is a guard driven team,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “They don’t have a lot of size, their bigs are more perimeter oriented or have those abilities.”
The Crimson Bears have a height advantage with Evan Gross, Gary Speck, Jeffrey Pusich and Taylor Swofford. The Cougars rely on the triple threat shooting of Adam Kile, Amu Aukusitino and Marquis Robinson.
“We had opportunities to win that game,” Casperson said. “We have to minimize our mistakes and maximize our efficiency on the offensive end. We need to move our feet and keep them in front of us and not reach on defense. We identified some things we need to work on when we played Thunder Mountain and Sitka, both very strong teams, in Ketchikan. It is a new setting and a new situation and you never know if we will feel the pressure. In the end though it is just basketball. Our guys have experience through the season and through their careers with playing basketball, and that is going to be our focus. Playing basketball. At regions we had a look in our eye, we were calm, collected and confident.”
Ibesate, Yadao, and Gross started at the state tourney last season and Calloway and Fenumiai played credible minutes.
“They have been there,” Casperson said. “The bright lights and big city stuff. I am not going to bring a tape measure like in Hoosiers or anything like that and measure the baskets for them. The Sullivan Arena is a great venue for sports, on the flipside it is completely different from anything anyone plays in during the high school season.”
The Crimson Bears know what lies beyond the edge of the court-world.
To get to the site of the impending battles ye must cross the tundra, sail an ocean, skirt a mountain, and pass a Starbucks or a McDonalds; then ye hang a horse’s trot left at Good King Sullivan’s Arena.
Pay heed brave knight and...
Beware, here be dragons.