It was a tough lesson, but a lesson nonetheless.
At the Class 3A state tournament last year, the Seward girls lost to eventual champion Barrow 70-29 in the semifinals. The Seahawks would go on to take fifth place in their first appearance at state since 2006.
Seward coach Curtis Berry said the Seahawks, who will have four of last year’s five starters on the floor when they face Galena at 3:15 p.m. Thursday at Sullivan Arena, let the hype of Barrow swallow them.
“What they’ve learned is that is doesn’t matter if you’re playing a super Barrow team, or playing down to 1A or 2A, or playing up to 4A,” Berry said. “The game stays the same.
“We just concentrate on doing what we know. We’re not trying to overcome weaknesses as much as we’re trying to solidify our strengths. Hopefully, that’s the lesson we’re learning, and that lesson came out of state a year ago.”
Seward took that lesson and rode it to a 17-6 record this year. The Seahawks won the Southcentral Conference title, with Curtis Berry nabbing coach of the year and daughter, Meg, collecting player of the year.
“A lot of neat stuff has happened personally as a family,” Curtis Berry said. “I think my biggest thrill was that the team was able to pull together and win the Region III championship. We talk a lot about being a team, and the team did the job we had been looking to do.”
Berry said that, in his opinion, there is not a dominant team this year in Class 3A like Barrow was last year. Combine that with a peaking Seward program, and Berry said this would be a great year to make a run at the program’s first state title since 1998.
Chelsey Clarke, the Southcentral MVP last year, joins Meg Berry as a four-year starter for the program. Berry averages 15.0 points per game, while Clarke averages 8.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Senior Jessica Stallings, a three-year varsity starter, joined Clarke on the Southcentral first team. Stallings averages 8.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Junior Tessa Adelmann and her 6.2 points per game made the Southcentral second team, while senior guard Catie Zweifel has plenty of varsity experience.
The main player off the bench for Seward is sophomore Ashley VonBorstel.
“We might only play six deep, and there’s concern about having the legs to play against these top-level teams, but we’ve risen to the occasion all year and I don’t expect this to be any different,” Berry said.
In Galena, the Seahawks also meet a program that is reaching a high-water mark thanks to senior guard Jenna Buchanan. Buchanan became the first player from Galena to sign with an NCAA program when she committed to the University of Alaska Anchorage.
A crowd of about 150 from the Interior village of 470 gathered for the event.
Curtis Berry knows a fair amount about Buchanan because Curtis’ brother, Vern, used to live in Galena. Vern now lives in Kenai. Beth Buchanan, Jenna’s mom, coaches the girls team, while Jon Buchanan, Jenna’s father, is the Galena athletic director. Galena has never played in a 3A final, but owns a victory this year over 21-4 Soldotna.
Meg Berry also played AAU ball with Jenna. The Berrys learned that Galena would be the No. 2 seed from the Aurora Conference, and thus matched up against the Seahawks, thanks to a text from Jenna to Meg.
“We will game plan to limit her chances,” Curtis said of Jenna. “We will make the rest of the team beat us, if they can. I think we have a very good chance of playing with them and possibly beyond them.”
The Seahawks have lost just three games to 3A competition this season, and the biggest loss was by six points. Seward carries an eight-game winning streak into state.
Berry said the team has hit its stride.
“I’m pleased they’ve all subjugated their own lives for the betterment of the team,” Berry said. “As a coach, I can’t express how good of a feeling that is.
“Win, lose or draw, I’m proud that the kids have understood and recognized there are some principles more important than winning. They’ve shown character by getting behind the idea that the whole is greater than the individual.”