One year ago, the Nikolaevsk girls basketball squad featured a team of fresh young faces perhaps unsure of what they were getting themselves into at the Class 2A state tournament in Anchorage. No upperclassmen and six eighth-graders ended up going 1-2 and finishing fifth.
This year, the Warriors look like a group of experienced professionals, as they have a chance to win a Class 1A state championship, demolishing Aniak 60-29 in the semifinal round Tuesday at the Sullivan Arena.
“We’re all excited,” said Nikolaevsk coach Bea Klaich. “Last year, we set a goal for ourselves, and that was to get to the championship game, and we want to win a championship game. This summer the girls went to camp and worked hard, and they work hard and are focused.”
Right from the beginning, players like Sophia Kalugin, Nianiella Dorvall and Kilina Klaich were knocking in layups to build a 26-point lead before halftime.
Dorvall and Kalugin, both strong post players, ended up with double-doubles. Dorvall had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Kalugin ended with 16 points and 14 boards.
“I feel pretty great, considering how well we worked as a team,” Kalugin said. “That’s one thing that boosts my confidence. Once we get things working together, we got this.
“It’s huge. Basketball is big in our village and this will just make us better.”
If the Warriors were at all worried about keeping Monday’s game from repeating itself, they sure didn’t show it. Nikolaevsk allowed Alak to rally from 18 points down in the third quarter on Monday, and narrowly defeated the Huskies 53-50.
“We learned from that, and we knew that if we were ahead, we have to keep it and not get overconfident,” Kalugin said. “We all live in the same village and we all know each other, so we really trust each other a lot.”
Coach Klaich also made it a point to remind her players to not let up after breaking out for 40 points in the first half on Tuesday and building a 24-point lead by halftime.
“That game yesterday was a great learning experience for us,” Klaich said. “Those things will happen, especially for a young team. I talked to the girls at halftime, and said remember what happened yesterday. We let down our guard, played relaxed and they got back in the game. Every one of these teams can shoot 3s.”
On Tuesday, Nikolaevsk shot over 50 percent from the field in the first half, hitting 18 of 33 attempts. Both Kalugin and Dorvall had 12 points by halftime, and nearly double-doubles as well.
At one point spanning the first and second quarters, Nikolaevsk scored 14 unanswered points, as part of a bigger 25-4 run.
Now, the Warriors set their sights on something they have never done — win a state title, which of course, is set up with their friendly rivals Cook Inlet Academy, at 2 p.m. today at the Sullivan Arena.
“We played CIA in our second game of the season, and I say that good competition makes you better, and last year CIA demolished us in our conference final,” Klaich said. “I think they beat us by like, 20 or 30 points. We knew that we needed to learn to handle pressure, because they had a high-pressure game. That made us work on our ballhandling and passing and breaking the press.
“When we played them early in this season, they beat us by nine, which was good because we learned a lot and we saw where we were. We knew we could overcome that if we worked hard over the season.”
Klaich said that when Nikolaevsk beat CIA in the second game between the two teams this season, it instilled confidence in the Warriors.
“We know that CIA will never back down,” Klaich said. “We have a lot respect for CIA and we know that we have to bring our A-game tomorrow in order to win the championship.
“We have a size advantage, there’s no question about that, but they have a Megan Bauder advantage. She is an incredible player, and Moffis is great too, so we know that they have a one-two punch.”
Klaich also said her team was expecting this game.
“At conferences, when we beat them by one point, we shook hands afterward, and I told (CIA coach) Rustin (Hitchcock), ‘How about a rematch?’” she said. “And he knew that they had to go through Klawock, because we knew all the talk was about Klawock, and I preferred that Rustin take care of that.”
Warriors 60, Halfbreeds 29
Nikolaevsk 20 20 12 8 —60
Aniak 7 9 6 7 —29
NIKOLAEVSK (60) — Dorvall 8 2-2 18, So. Kalugin 8 0-1 16, Klaich 4 1-2 10, Jones 0 0-0 0, Stafford 2 0-0 4, Se. Kalugin 4 0-0 8, N. Gordeev 1 0-0 2, E. Gordeev 0 0-0 0, Hickman 0 0-0 0, Kojin 1 0-1 2. Totals 28 3-6 60.
ANIAK (29) — R. Phillips 5 0-5 12, K. Peterson 0 0-0 0, Morrow 0 0-0 0, C. Phillips 1 0-0 2, Hoeldt 0 0-0 0, Wolf 3 0-0 7, J. Peterson 1 0-0 2, Simeon 0 0-0 0, Morgan 2 1-6 6. Totals 12 1-11 29.
3-point goals — Nikolaevsk 1 (Klaich); Aniak 4 (R. Phillips 2, Morgan 1, Wolf 1).
Team fouls — Nikolaevsk 12; Aniak 13. Fouled out — C. Phillips, R. Phillips.