Last year, when the Cook Inlet Academy girls were feeling a bit under the weather the week before the Class 2A girls state basketball tournament, they prepared by taking it easy, and allowing their sickness to run its course.
It ended up biting them in the end, as they were relegated to third place for the second year in a row.
Head coach Rustin Hitchcock said the reason was that they were simply out of shape, due to the lack of training the previous week.
This year, the team is once again faced with a slight sickness that has the Eagles coughing and lacking energy, but this time they are trying a different method to extinguish it.
“This year I said, ‘We’re going to run this out of your systems!’” Hitchcock said. “We’ve been working hard for three days, so they get that tournament feel. We’ve been doing a little conditioning this week, and today we began to tone that down by working on skills.”
Senior Kelsie Leaf says the team has what it takes to overcome any challenges thrown its way.
“There’s a little concern, but even with Megan Bauder being sick, she’s been playing phenomenal,” Leaf said. “So I think we’re strong enough to play through.”
Hitchcock said the team is going to take steps to get healthy as soon as possible.
“We’re going to hydrate, vitamin C it up, and just try and get healthy,” he said. “We’re going to play with the team we have, and they know how to play with sickness.”
CIA is coming off its third consecutive Peninsula Conference championship, so it seems the Eagles are as primed as ever to win the state title. With players like Leaf, Peninsula Conference MVP Megan Bauder, Nicole Moffis and Keely Powers leading the way, CIA’s expectations are high.
“It sounds really cliche, but I have complete confidence in every player on this team,” Bauder said. “Every game, someone different steps up and takes over, and this year we’ve been growing more as a team, as opposed to years past, this year we’ve been more team-oriented.”
Hitchcock certainly seems to think so. With a young team like CIA, the coach is anticipating further success for the coming years.
“I think success breeds further success,” Hitchcock said. “We have these girls coming in who have a love for the game, because they watch the people they look up to be able to do it at that level. So as long as you have that success, there will be more interest and commitment and smarter players overall.”
This year, however, they will need to get off on the right foot. The team’s first opponent is Togiak on Monday in Anchorage. Game time is 6:45 p.m.
“We played them last year first round, and we ended up winning by 33 or something like that, but they were all juniors last year, so now they’re all seniors, so we have to anticipate a more experienced team,” Hitchcock said. “What we had going for us last year was our press, so we’re going to retool that to make it more successful, and take the fight to every team we face.”
Bauder is looking to continue the form she has displayed recently at the Peninsula Conference championships, scoring 16 points en route to the win in the final game.
“Last year, we got (Togiak) on our fast break, so we’ll be looking to do that again,” Bauder said. “We got the chance to play some bigger schools this year, like Seward, Grace, ACS and Nikiski, so we’ve gotten to play a more physical level of basketball, and that’s helped us to know what to expect.”
The players and coach also know that the CIA girls team has played in the third-place game the last two years, and this year expectations are to make it to that final match.
“This is our third trip in a row, but the first time, I feel, that we’re five strong up top,” Hitchcock said. “Klawock provides the biggest threat, but we’re not looking past Togiak yet, because if we just coast to a win, how do we get better for that second round? We don’t.”
Leaf says the team is not in it for third place this year, as the Eagles look to break that streak.
“That would be tough to go to state three years in a row and come out with third each time,” she said. “It would be a huge disappointment, but life goes on. I just wouldn’t be satisfied with third place again.”