If there are any similarities with local team preparations for the Northern Lights Conference championships today, Friday and Saturday at Wasilla High School, it’s that the squads are taking it one game at a time.
The Soldotna girls team could certainly be seen as one of the favorites heading into the tournament, as the Stars boast a 9-1 conference record this year, but head coach Doug Blossom said the team is not taking anything for granted.
“You can’t take an opponent lightly,” he said. “Palmer and Kodiak are teams we have beaten in the past month, but our main focus is to get in that Saturday night game, and then on to state.”
Blossom stated that the Winning Percentage Index is what organizers are using to seed the teams going to the state competition, and is a measure of strength of a team’s schedule, and how that team does against that schedule.
The top two teams at the NLC tourney automatically make state. After that, a team can qualify for state if it has one of the top two WPI rankings of teams that don’t automatically qualify for state.
With just two losses to Class 4A teams, the Stars are in a good position for WPI qualification, but don’t want to take any chances.
“Our last three games of the year have been our best, and we’re playing really well as a team and playing hard and having fun doing it,” Blossom said. “I’ve pretty much started the last month with a seven-person rotation, and if it’s working, why change it?”
Soldotna, the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division, will play Palmer, the No. 4 seed from the north, today at 11:30 a.m.
Kenai girls head coach Stacia Rustad said her team is entering the tournament with a realistic, but winning, attitude.
“We go in to win, of course, and this is a good matchup for us, but we’re fighting for our life,” she said. “We’re going in to win a ballgame.”
The last time Kenai played Colony, the Kardinals held the lead for nearly the entire game, but lost the handle late, as the Knights won the game 37-34.
“We outplayed them in every category, but the fact of the matter is, we fell apart in the last minutes of the game,” Rustad said. “Hopefully we’ve rectified that situation, because there are other teams in this bracket that are more talented than us, but we’re putting everything in this.”
Rustad’s confidence is high knowing that she can rely on the team’s trio of senior starters — Carolyn Kiefer, Bailey Beeson and Morgan Wensley.
“I know that they’re going to pull through for us, and I’m proud to be their coach and I know that they will give us everything they have. This team is very resilient,” she said.
Kenai will begin the NLC tournament with a 5-5 conference record and the No. 2 seed from the south. The Kards play the Knights, the No. 3 seed from the North, at 3 p.m. today.
Rather than prepare for a title match, the Kenai Central boys, the top seed from the south, are completely focused on today’s game against the Palmer Moose, No. 4 from the north. The game tips at 1:15 p.m.
“It’s something that scares me to talk about, because at the beginning of the year our goal was one game at a time, and we’ve stuck to that,” Kenai boys coach Ken Felchle said. “We’re focused very hard for Palmer this week, and everything else is secondary. If we win, we’ll refocus.”
Felchle said the team is also looking healthy after a few “sniffles” have dissipated.
“One of my concerns early in the season was Colton Hayes, who sprained both ankles in Barrow, but they are looking much improved,” he said.
Kenai enters the tournament with an 8-2 conference record.
Matt Johnson, head coach of the Soldotna boys team, says the squad is still looking for that spark to ignite his team.
“I’ve said all along, we’re right there, we really are in every game we play, and if we can learn how to win tight games, that would flip the switch,” he said Saturday. “Every one of those games is tight, and these teams are very equal.”
Soldotna is ranked third in the NLC Southern Division with a 4-6 conference record. The Stars play Colony, the No. 2 seed from the north, at 4:45 p.m.
The Homer boys are ranked second in the NLC with an identical 4-6 record to Soldotna, but own the tiebreaker. The Mariners enter the tournament hot after getting healthy late in the year and play Kodiak, No. 3 from the north, at 9:45 a.m.
The Skyview boys went winless in the conference this year with a 0-10 record, and thus are ranked fourth. The Panthers play Wasilla, No. 1 from the north, at 8:15 p.m. today.
The Homer and Skyview girls each also have a 1-9 record, with Homer getting the advantage of a higher seeding. Skyview plays Wasilla, No. 1 from the north, at 6:30 p.m. today. Homer faces Kodiak, No. 2 from the north, at 8 a.m.