The Cook Inlet Academy boys may be fresh off their second Peninsula Conference title in the last three years, but they are not finished winning yet.
The team is looking to earn the 2A boys state championship in Anchorage this week, and it all starts on Monday.
“I think it’s going to take a lot of effort from our defensive end, and working as a team,” CIA junior Koebryn Mlynarik said. “Each of us has a game sometimes where we hit a bunch of 3s, but in the end it’s all about teamwork, and when we beat Lumen and won our other big games, it was about the defense and how we went back and worked together, especially on those zones.
“So, it’s bigger than hitting half-court shots.”
The team’s trip to the state competition is its fourth in the last five years, says head coach Justin Franchino, and he makes it apparent that this year is their best chance to add to state titles in 1999, 2002 and 2005.
“(First round opponent) Scammon Bay is going to be tough, they were ranked No. 1 for most of the season, so the way the seeding works, we drew them first, which is going to be a tough first-round game,” Franchino said. “But we’ve had an entire week to prepare for that.”
Having such a qualify first-round opponent has gotten the team’s attention in practice.
“You always hear the mantra, one game at a time, and that’s how we’ve taken it,” Franchino said. “We do not have a gimme in round one, and sometimes you do, and it’s easy to overlook that. This one, we don’t have the problem of overlooking it.”
It may be easy for some teams to be merely satisfied for making it to state, but CIA has bigger plans.
“All season long, we’ve tried to play as many tournaments as possible to prepare us for something like this,” Franchino said. “The Nenana tournament this year, which we won, was an eight-team tournament that was set up just like this, so between that and our own classic and the Ninilchik tournament and our regional tournament, this will be our sixth tournament this year, so we’ve had a lot of experience playing three games in three days, and that mental preparation is what it takes to take each game at a time.
“As my old coach would say, ‘If you’re going to play in a tournament, you might as well win the dang thing.’”
The team has come a long way since the beginning of the season in the fall, as new leadership roles on the team have gradually come into form, including that of top scorer David Reischach. Franchino described the relative struggles the team had as normal, but the improvement as vast.
“In the beginning of the year, we had a lot of guys with not a lot of varsity-level experience, and this was David’s first year in a leadership role,” Franchino said. “I questioned if we had the ability to go the distance and win a region title, and David has shown me that he’s evolved from a player at the beginning of the year, to a competitor and a winner at the end here, and the other guys have fed off that leadership and energy and focus.”
Reischach, a senior, has certainly made an impact this year. In the Peninsula Conference title game on March 2, Reischach led the team to the win with 40 points of his own.
“We started off a little rusty this year, but with all of our guys coming back, we got healthy, and improved as games went on,” Reischach said. “We definitely got a lot better with all the games we’ve played.”
Along with Reischach, Franchino is counting on key players such as Koebryn Mlynarik, Levi Grinestaff, Braden Chumley and Zac Taplin.
“We’re not really resting this week as much as we’re just sharpening,” Mlynarik said. “We’re getting right down to it. We’re not introducing anything new, we’re just making sure everything we already know is running smoothly.”
The first round has CIA playing Scammon Bay, and Franchino has the team solely focused on the Scammon Bay Eagles right now.
“They like to run and gun, and they’re always releasing guys for a fast break,” he said. “They love to shoot 3s, they’re scrappy, so we’ve been preparing for that.”
If in fact the boys ride their wave of momentum to the state championship game on Wednesday night, they could be dangerous should the game end in a shootout. Mlynarik said whoever has the ball in the waning moments has the ability to score.
“I’m OK with that, I’m absolutely confident about it,” he said. “I don’t want to be cocky about it, but I trust any of these guys on the team to deal with pressure and make that shot at the end.”