After going through a big change last year, there will be no change in the Southcentral Conference this year before the conference changes again next season with the loss of Skyview.
Last season, Homer and Skyview dropped from the Class 4A level to the Class 3A level, putting eight teams in the Southcentral Conference. The four Peninsula squads — Homer, Skyview, Nikiski and Seward — play in the league’s Southern Division.
This year, the conference tournament gets underway in Cordova on March 6, and three tickets to the state tournament will be up for grabs. Both of Seward’s teams represented the Kenai Peninsula at last year’s 3A state tournament.
The following is a closer look at the Peninsula teams in the Southcentral Conference:
The boys team recently placed second at the Little Norway tournament in Petersburg, although the Panthers finished in a three-way tie for first with host Petersburg and Metlakatla with each team holding a 2-1 tournament record. The tiebreaker that decided the order was point differential.
The Panthers beat Cordova and Metlakatla, and the season is looking bright for the last season of the school.
“We’ve talked about being focused on the here and now,” said Skyview coach Jesse Settlemyer. “Everyone knows the situation, but we’re focused on the games at hand and working hard at getting better.”
Settlemyer will guide Skyview through its final season, which he hopes is a successful one in his fifth year with the Panthers.
“We have a pretty experienced, hardworking group coming back,” he said. “The whole conference is strong this year, it’s looking like a really competitive season.”
Senior Jacob Carlson — a second-team all-conference player in 2012 — will be the primary ballhandler for Skyview, and has set the tone on offense already this season with stellar play in the Little Norway tourney.
Joining Carlson will be juniors Tim Duke and Bailey Jones, and senior Micah Hilbish, who has previous experience with the team but did not play last year. All three will provide talent at the guard and forward positions.
At the post will be senior Chad Harley and sophomore Sage Hill — who is fresh off a fourth-place finish in the 195-pound division at the Class 1-2-3A state wrestling tournament. Senior Brandon Rice is hopeful to return to the team after suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder during the football season.
“Honestly, we feel like we can be competitive,” Settlemyer said. “We’re hoping to be in position to contend to go to state and put ourselves in position to improve.”
The boys team will travel down to Homer on Jan. 7 to open its conference schedule.
The Skyview girls also feature a mix of multisport athletes. Ranging from members of the volleyball team to the soccer squad, athleticism isn’t a concern.
“I think with the work they put in during the offseason is big,” said coach Kyle McFall. “They had a lot of individual time in the offseason to prepare, so it’s really going to help them.”
McFall returns for a third year as the head coach of the girls team, but is still looking for a state berth with the team. Joining McFall are assistant coaches Ariel Mercier and Gary Ramsell.
With most of the starting members coming together for a third year, McFall says the core of eight girls has been together long enough that a solid level of play has been established for a strong rotation of six.
Senior Sam Reynolds leads the team at point guard, with Meghan Powers at forward, J.C. Rouse and Sierra Mahan at the wings, and Hayley Ramsell at the post. The Panthers look primed in the final year.
Skyview’s opening game of the year with Soldotna on Dec. 17 showed just how important it was for the team to prove they can be contenders one last time. After trailing 32-2 at halftime, the Panthers were able to notch 21 second-half points.
“There was a lot of emotion going into the game,” McFall said. “I think it kind of hurt us at first but once we settled down, we showed how good we can be.
“We’re just focusing on one game at a time, and they’ve been looking at this year for a while. They were all freshmen and sophomores when I came in.”
Skyview will travel to San Diego for competition on Jan. 3 with Mt. Empire High School. The first conference contest will be in Homer on Jan. 7.
Senior Seth Carstens leads the Nikiski boys team.
“We’re young with a lot of sophomores this year, and there is good leadership in our seniors,” said coach Reid Kornstad. “We’ve got a core of players that will need to grow quickly.”
Nikiski swept Kenai in a pair of endowment games Friday night. After losing to Kenai 58-48 in the SoHi Tip-Off tournament a week earlier, the Nikiski boys avenged the loss with a 62-60 victory Friday, giving the team much hope.
Carstens led the team at point guard last year, and this year missed out on football season to concentrate his efforts on basketball.
“He can score all over the floor,” Kornstad said. “He’s just an all-around, complete player.”
Along with Carstens, the Bulldogs will have Michael Stangel, Luke Johnson and Cade Anderson add to the depth chart with their athleticism. Stangel and Johnson both recently competed at the 1-2-3A state wrestling tournament, with Johnson snagging the gold medal at the 195-pound championship final, and Anderson helped lead the Bulldogs to the small-schools state football championship in October at the quarterback position.
On the downside, there are injuries to be dealt with, such as the dislocated collarbone that Stangel suffered from wrestling at state, and the knee injury that sophomore Nathan Carstens incurred. Kornstad said the problems will all be mitigated very soon.
Junior Christian Riddall and sophomore Hunter Holloway will both provide depth at center and point guard, respectively.
“It depends on how they learn to play defense and rebound and grasp the offensive concepts we’re trying to introduce this year,” Kornstad said about the team’s chances at a state berth. “It’s tough to tell right now.”
On the girls side, third-year head coach Scott Anderson brings an experienced group into the season. The team topped the Kenai girls 40-26 on Friday night.
“We have four seniors this year, three that have been playing a lot since their sophomore year on varsity,” Anderson said. “The strength of this group is that they all get along and play well together, and I think this team is really going to come together and have a lot of unity.”
Leading the team is junior point guard Rachel Thompson, another one of Nikiski’s multisport athletes.
“Rachel is an outstanding player,” Anderson said. “She works so hard, and is extremely athletic and very smart, and just a great team leader. She takes control out there and is the court general for us.”
With seniors Alyssa Darch, Jodi Cook and Emily Lynch at the post positions, the trio will provide a tough offensive lineup for opposing teams. Even with players like Sienna Wallis and Ashley Epperheimer graduated from last year, Anderson said there is a lot of optimism for the current squad. Senior Katie Costello adds additional experience.
“I think if we focus on getting better every time we play, we’ll have success later on,” he said. “But we definitely have things to work on and improve.”
Anderson pointed to Anchorage Christian Schools as the top dog in the conference, pointing out that the Lions managed to bring in one of Dillingham’s top players from last year.
The girls team faces ACS for its first conference matchup on Jan. 4 in Anchorage.
Both the boys and girls teams earned a spot at the 3A state tournament back in March with runner-up finishes at the conference tournament, but both also fell short at state with two-and-out losses. For the girls, it was the second straight year of doing so.
Jeff Buchanan helped guide the Seward boys to state with his point guard play, but has graduated since then. The boys rode their 12-14 regular season into the tournament.
Likewise, on the girls side, Tessa Adelmann is gone due to graduation. The Seward girls posted a 10-12 regular season record last year.
Maggie Koplin and Tayla Cabana represent the top returning seniors from last year’s girls team.
On the boys side, Quinn Daugharty and Sam Reinert take over the reigns as seniors.