ANCHORAGE - The Mount Edgecumbe girls basketball team is one of the top contenders to win the Class 3A statate tournament, but in order to improve on their recent fourth-place finishes the Braves will have beat the Eielson Ravens in today's 5:35 p.m. first-round game at Sullivan Arena.
``We know the value of the first game,'' Mount Edgecumbe coach Paul Johnson said while onboard the Wednesday morning plane from Juneau to Anchorage. `` This is our third time up there, so we've got kids who've played in the tournament and they've got a good idea what it's all about.''
The Braves (21-4), who are led by Adrienne Taalak and Halane Isidore, have no player taller than 5-foot-8. In Eielson (16-11), Mount Edgecumbe plays a team featuring a tough 6-1 sophomore center (Wendy Buzby), plus guards Denisha Lamb, Julianna Henderson and Janay Deloach add quickness to the roster. But at least Seward isn't in the state bracket this year after handing Mount Edgecumbe its only losses in the last two state tournaments.
``Eielson will be tough,'' Johnson said. ``What's going to pay off is all those big teams we've played this year, like Ketchikan and Sitka. They've all got kids that size, Sitka's got three of them.''
In other girls Class 3A first-round pairings today, the defending state champion Valdez Buccaneers (21-3) play the Wrangell Wolves (13-9) at 8:45 a.m., the Barrow Whalers (12-11) play Anchorage Christian Schools (18-8) at 10:20 a.m. and the Nikiski Bulldogs (20-4) play the defending state runner-up Bethel Warriors (17-9) at 4 p.m. Friday's semifinals are at 7:10 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., while the championship game is 3:15 p.m. on Saturday.
The Wrangell girls will have a tough matchup in today's first round, since even though Valdez lost heavily to graduation last year the Buccaneers don't look like they've dropped in talent. Wrangell is making its first trip to state since 1995.
There will be a new boys Class 3A state champion crowned this year, and the Wrangell boys feel they've got as good a chance as anybody to win the title. Wrangell won the state championship in 1995, and Wrangell coach Ray Stokes said this year's team is among the best he's ever coached.
The Wolves (22-2), who are led by the inside-outside combo of point guard Cody Angerman and center Graham Gablehouse, will play the Monroe Catholic School Rams (16-12) at 8:45 p.m. tonight in the last game of the tournament's opening round. Monroe is led by senior guard Cam Chase, while Brandon Joseph and Cory Wilbur add support.
``I think we've got a good chance at state,'' Gablehouse said.
``We're a lot more experienced this year,'' Angerman added. Wrangell lost both of its state tournament games last year, to tie for seventh place in one of the most balanced state tournaments in years.
In the other boys Class 3A first-round games today, the defending state runner-up Valdez Buccaneers (21-3) play the Metlakatla Chiefs (14-11) at 11:45 a.m., the Barrow Whalers (21-3) play the Houston Hawks (17-8) at 1:30 p.m. and the Grace Christian School Grizzlies (19-5) play the Nome-Beltz Nanooks (20-6) at 7:10 p.m. Fridays semifinal games are at 4 p.m. and 5:35 p.m., and Saturday's championship game is at 5 p.m.
Metlakatla, which won the 1984 state title, is making its first trip to state since 1996. The Chiefs did beat Wrangell once earlier this season, and Wrangell coach Ray Stokes said Metlakatla has the best talent in Southeast when the Chiefs are clicking. But Metlakatla coach Cary Calvert feels Wrangell could be one of the top contenders at state.
``We lost to a very good team, and I can see Wrangell in the state championship,'' Calvert said after Wrangell beat Metlakatla 69-47 last Friday in the Region V-Class 3A championship game in Ketchikan.