The Thunder Mountain High School boy’s basketball team is ranked No. 1 in the state, according to the Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches poll released on Wednesday. It’s the second straight week the Falcons have been designated as Alaska’s top hoops team.
“It is hard not to appreciate and feel good about it as long, as you look at it the right way,” Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco said. “It is just a voting poll, it is not an actual results poll. The rank you want to be at the end of the year is that spot. I think the players are getting recognized for their hard work.”
The Falcons boast an 11-4 record to date, 1-1 in the Southeast Conference.
The four losses came against Sitka (69-66) on Dec. 21, Monroe (81-55) on Jan. 2, West Anchorage (59-43) on Jan. 9 and Ketchikan (52-43) on Jan. 18.
Monroe tops the 3A boy’s poll and Sitka is fifth, West is second in 4A and Southeast Conference rival Ketchikan did not crack the top five.
West’s losses have come against Monroe twice (75-45, 88-56, Sitka (66-56) and Anchorage Christian (57-53).
Colony (10-2) is ranked third, Lathrop (7-6) fourth and Kodiak (8-5) fifth.
The Falcons provided the Colony Knights with one of their two losses, winning 67-56 at the Dimond Tournament on Jan. 10.
The TMHS loss to Ketchikan (9-8, 2-2) also brought with it another casualty. Star junior wing Jacob Calloway suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the contest in the second half and tried to keep playing but was unable.
“I couldn’t put any pressure on it,” Calloway said. “It was pretty painful. I will be in a boot for about four weeks. Hopefully I will be back by in time for Juneau or Kodiak.”
In his absence the Falcons showed how much of a team coach Blasco has assembled this season, sweeping a visit by the Chugiak Mustangs last weekend, including a decisive 30-point win that compensated for the loss of Calloway’s pull-up drives and perimeter marksmanship.
“Obviously when you lose Calloway for a few weeks, that is about 19 points a game,” Blasco said. “Other guys were willing to step up.”
Falcons’ seniors Josh Palmer, Ben Jahn, Matt Seymour, Ryan Lee, Luke Nye and Alan Fisher are filling the void in Calloway’s absence.
“It is more shots for them to pass around with Calloway out,” Blasco said. “Hopefully it will make everyone better for when he returns.”
Blasco said the team will use the week off to recover health, work on any new ideas and improve on some obvious weaknesses.
“It is pretty clear in two of our five home games we have had 20-plus turnovers,” he said. “That is obviously an issue. Our defense can be stronger in the half and full court. So we will try to figure that out and tighten things up.”
The two wins over Chugiak impressed the AABC voters enough to keep the Falcons in high regard around the state, and the higher the Falcons are labeled the better it shows on the Southeast Conference when teams are selected for one of two at-large bids to the state tournament in March.
Teams with strong WPI (Winning Percentage Index) numbers could get chosen to the tourney without qualifying at the regional venues.
“The poll feels good,” Blasco said. “Not only is Thunder Mountain being recognized but Southeast is being recognized. We have worked hard and traveled all across the state and I think people recognize the team we are putting together.”
The Falcons will close the season with Service, JDHS, Kodiak, Kayhi and JDHS again.
“Every game is important,” Blasco said. “Not just with us and opponents but watching the other games to see who wins them. The visiting Service and Kodiak games will be important for our WPI. There is a lot at stake in these last eight games.”
According to the Alaska School Activities Association website, the WPI is a “measure of strength of schedule and how a team does against that schedule.”
Neither margin of victory nor location of games are considered. The formula is based on 50 percent of a team’s winning percentage and 50 percent opponents’ winning percentage.
The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears boys (7-6, 1-1) will host Ketchikan on Friday and Saturday (8 p.m. varsity, 6:15 JV, 4:30 C).
“We are certainly looking forward to moving in the right direction,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “We want to see if we have made any corrections and improvements since the last time we played them and since our road trip. These games will help decide the pecking order in Southeast and our guys are looking forward to it. Each time out is an opportunity to find out if we have improved the chinks in our armor, so to speak.”
The JDHS road trip went 1-3 with losses to Lathrop (75-62), Monroe (79-42) and Kodiak (78-55), with the sole win against West Valley, 83-82. The Crimson Bears also topped Chugiak last week at home.
“We are all in first or we are all in last right now,” Casperson said. “It is wide open right now. Everyone tagged us for third in the preseason and we are comfortable with that. We don’t mind being an underdog. These are big games. We are looking up at our final opponents.”
Casperson said the northern road trip featured quality opponents and learning opportunities.
“We are certainly trying to play faster than we ever have before,” Casperson said. “Sometimes we turn the ball over more than we need to. We need to rebound better. I think just learning a new system and learning to execute it, on the outside may look chaotic, but on the floor the guys are starting to know what to do. Offensively we are running our sets better, defensively we are rotating better in the full court with our pressure and we have to get better in the half court.”
The Crimson Bears graduated nine players and had averaged 40-plus points last season. This season only junior Adam Empson is averaging double figures in scoring.
“We are up to 60-something this season,” Casperson said. “I am proud of our guys. They have responded. The group of guys we have cherish the opportunity to come out and prove themselves. We are playing a lot of guys and they are making the most of the time they get on the floor.”
The JDHS boys end the season with games against Service, TMHS, Kodiak and TMHS again.
The Thunder Mountain girls (8-6, 3-1) host Sitka on Friday (5:15 p.m. varsity, 3:30 JV) and Saturday (3:45 varsity, 1:30 JV).
“Just based off of seeing them last year we know they are strong in the post,” Thunder Mountain coach Tanya Nizich said. “They are always a good team with a good program.”
This will be the Falcons girl’s last home games. Senior Michaela Demmert will be honored later in the season at the boy’s last home game against Kodiak on Feb. 20.
“I think all of us are feeling good and confidant,” Nizich said. “We have some big games in Anchorage coming up and that will be a true test to see how we match up against some of the other teams in the state.”
The 4A Girls rankings have Kodiak (11-0) on top, Soldotna (12-0) second, West (8-0) third, Dimond (6-4) fourth and West Valley (3-2) fifth.
The Falcons lost to Soldotna 66-48, and to West, 41-35.
The Juneau-Douglas girls (2-12, 0-2) will be playing at Ketchikan (7-4, 1-1) this weekend.
“We are going down there to hopefully get a win,” JDHS coach Dee Boster said. “It is always tough playing in Ketchikan. We can’t look past this weekend and we can’t look back.”
The Crimson Bears lost two competitive games to TMHS (52-40, 35-27) last weekend.
“Quite frankly that old statement one game at a time is what we do have to look at,” Boster said. “We have to look past what our record is now. We really need to win so the kids can get some self-confidence. They have seen they are improving; they are pleased they are improving but they are not happy they are not winning. It makes them hungry but very frustrated. We are not a bad team but we have to play as well as we can play to beat Thunder Mountain and Ketchikan.”
The Falcons and Crimson Bears girls and Kayhi Lady Kings will all travel to the Dimond Tournament on Feb. 5-8.
3A boys, girls
The 3A Boys are powered by the state’s top overall team the Monroe Rams at 11-0.
At number two is Anchorage Christian (12-1), Bethel (10-3) is third, Grace Christian (10-5) fourth and Sitka (8-5) fifth.
The 3A Girls have Anchorage Christian (8-2) at number one, Galena 4-3) second, Nikiski (9-3) third, Petersburg (5-1) fourth and Valdez (3-2) fifth.
1A/2A boys, girls
Southeast’s Metlakatla is ranked second for 2A boys behind Bristol Bay, with Dillingham third, Unalakleet fourth and Chevak fifth.
Hooper Bay leads 2A Girls, Point Hope is second, Unalakleet third, Chevak fourth and Selawik fifth.
Defending Region V and state champion Klawock is in command of the 1A Boys poll and southeast neighbor Yakutat is third. Noatak is ranked second, Noorvik fourth and Scammon Bay fifth.
Nikolaevsk leads the 1A Girls, Cook Inlet Academy is second, Newhalen third, Yakutat fourth and Klawock fifth.