A bandbox gym. A community that loves supporting basketball. Sixteen teams, including two of the best in the state, fighting for six state berths. Game times ranging from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
It’s going to be quite the weekend in Seward, where the Southcentral Conference Tournament tips today with eight games.
On the boys and girls side, Anchorage Christian Schools goes into the tournament with the No. 1 seeds from the Northern Division and the favorite’s mantle.
“ACS is the best team in 3A, if not one of the best teams in the state,” Nikiski girls coach Scott Anderson.
Nikiski boys coach Reid Kornstad is equally impressed with the boys version of the Lions.
“ACS will go in No. 1,” Kornstad said. “They have so many good players. They have three of the top players in the state, in all classifications.”
So unless something strange happens, and with high school players competing away from home at times ranging from early in the morning to late at night strange things could happen, the rest of the region will compete for two state spots.
On the girls side, Seward (7-3 in conference) is the Southern Division No. 1 seed, earning that distinction by winning a coin toss over Nikiski (7-3).
The hosts open with a 5 p.m. game against Grace, a team the Seahawks beat by double digits earlier this year.
“It’s a tough matchup,” Seward coach Mark Clemens said. “Anything can happen in tournament basketball.”
Clemens said his team must do the basics — play good defense, limit turnovers and stay out of foul trouble.
“ACS hasn’t won the tournament yet,” Clemens said. “On any given day, somebody can come in more prepared that the other team. If we got to the championship game, I would look forward to playing them.”
Due to the bounce of a coin, Nikiski has no such luxury. If the Bulldogs can get past an 8 a.m. game with Cordova today, a potential matchup with ACS looms in the semifinals. Finalists make state. The third berth goes to the survivor of the arduous third-place bracket, so losing the No. 1 seed in a coin toss could be costly to the Bulldogs.
Anderson, whose squad beat Cordova by double digits this year, also said his team split with Seward and Houston. That shows how fierce the battle will be for state berths.
“And you can’t really count out Cordova, Homer and even Skyview played Seward to a one-point game,” Anderson said.
After getting blown out by ACS a few weeks ago, Anderson is happy with the way his team has refocused heading into the tournament. He said sophomore Rachel Thompson is doing a great job at point guard, and Sienna Wallis and Alyssa Darch are excelling in the post.
The Homer girls captured the No. 3 seed with a 3-7 league record. The Mariners open at 2 p.m. against Houston, a matchup Homer lost by double digits earlier in the season.
“First of all, we need to stop turnovers, we need to make layups and we need to not foul,” Homer coach Brent Keene said. “Other than that, everything else.”
Keene said he has four seniors and five freshmen on his squad, so he said the seniors will be pivotal in the tournament due to the tournament inexperience of the freshmen.
Skyview, the No. 4 seed from the south with an 0-10 record, draws ACS at 11 a.m.
“We’re trying to deal with their pressure because they are extra aggressive and extra quick,” Skyview coach Kyle McFall said of the Lions. “We have to slow down the tempo. It’s a daunting task, but at regions you can’t back down from anyone.”
McFall said Meghan Powers and Sam Reynolds must find ways to score throughout the tournament for the Panthers to have success. He also said Hayley Ramsell must continue to anchor the defense.
The Seward boys nabbed the top seed from the south by finishing 7-3 in the league. Seward lost to ACS, Grace and Skyview, but defeated first-round opponent Cordova by double digits earlier this season. Those two play at 7:30 p.m. today.
“It’s always harder to beat somebody twice,” Seward coach Curtis Berry said. “Certainly, we’re not going to take anything for granted.”
Berry said ACS is above the pack, but said the rest of the tournament should be a scramble. Seward beat Houston twice and lost to Grace Christian by nine points.
The Seahawks will have the advantage of the home floor.
“It’s crazy thinking about jamming 16 teams into probably one of the smallest gyms on the peninsula,” he said. “We’ve gotten tremendous support from the community. We’re appreciative of the sacrifices they’re willing to make.”
The Seahawks will be led by senior captain guard Jeff Buchanan. Matthew Moore will be important inside, as will the outside jumper of Ronnie Jackson. Berry said players like Michael Marshall, Jon Thomassen and Michael Wolfe must step up as well.
Skyview earned the No. 2 seed by posting a 4-6 record. The Panthers open against Houston at 9:30 a.m. The Hawks topped the Panthers a few weeks ago.
“We didn’t play well,” Skyview coach Jesse Settlemyer said. “It was senior night. They came out with a lot of energy and it was a wakeup call for us.”
Settlemyer said guards Jacob Carlson, DJ Collier and Tim Duke must limit turnovers throughout the tournament. The Panthers also will lean heavily on the post play of Kaleb Henderson.
Nikiski, the No. 3 seed with a 3-7 record, opens with Grace at 12:30 p.m. Grace cruised past the Bulldogs earlier in the season.
“We will have to be much more disciplined on defense — not allowing penetration and doing a better job on the boards,” Kornstad said. “We have to limit turnovers.”
Seth Carstens has been Nikiski’s leading scorer, and Kornstad said Carstens will have to pump in points for the Bulldogs to have success. Stephen Hartley will have to contribute on offense, and guard the other squad’s top perimeter player. The coach also said the team is at its best when Lincoln Johnson is getting touches inside.
Finally, Homer, the No. 4 seed, opens at 3:30 p.m. with a game against top-seeded ACS.