The Cook Inlet Academy girls basketball team has little reason to be overconfident heading into the Class 1A state tournament.
But the Eagles also have little reason to feel much doubt.
CIA, in its eighth straight state appearance, has finished third, third, second and first in its last four tries at state.
But even though the Eagles (18-5 overall) topped first-round opponent Yakutat 43-21 early in the season, Cook Inlet will not brush aside the Southeast school without much thought.
That’s because at the Peninsula Conference tournament, CIA lost the championship game 37-20 to Nikolaevsk, and then had to hold off a furious Ninilchik rally for a 33-30 decision in the second-place game.
“I think it was just nerves — us wanting it too much,” CIA junior Ashleigh Hammond said of the conference tournament. “We wanted it so bad and we put in so much effort that we were over-thinking everything.
“I think we learned our lesson.”
But CIA knows it is not the only team that can learn a lesson from a tough loss, and that has the Eagles wary of Saturday’s 5:15 p.m. game at West High in Anchorage.
Hitchcock said he has looked at the film from the Yakutat game, and noted Yakutat missed a lot of easy shots. Hitchcock said he talked to Yakutat’s coach after the game, and the coach said Yakutat had been worried about playing the state champs.
“I didn’t understand it at the time, but as I go back and look at the game, I can see it,” Hitchcock said. “They played a lot tougher later in the game when the nerves went away.”
Yakutat will also see a different Cook Inlet team. Junior Madison Orth points out that sophomore Richele McGahan missed the first few weeks of the season, leaving CIA with just four returners for the Yakutat game.
“We are a way different team,” Orth said.
The Eagles’ lone senior is Nicole Moffis, who started last season and was on the all-state tournament team. McGahan started last year, while Orth, Hammond and sophomore Kendra Brush all played major roles in the tournament run.
Freshmen Jayne Hanna, Kendall Taplin, Danielle Hills and Emma Lyons have improved enough to give the Eagles depth off the bench.
“We know we’ve beaten them before, and we know they’ve improved and we’ve improved,” Moffis said. “We have a lot of young girls and they’ve all been doing a great job this year.
“They’ve all filled in their roles and everyone has stepped up and improved dramatically.”
CIA knows it can recover from the conference tournament to win state because the Eagles finished second at conference only to win state last year.
And they did it by beating the eventual second-place, third-place, fourth-place and consolation-champ finishers.
“There isn’t a tougher way to win state,” Hitchcock said.
In order to make a state run again, the Eagles will have to improve on offense. Hitchcock said the defense is fine.
“We were a little overexcited, especially for the Nikolaevsk game,” Orth said. “Also, it got in our heads because we played at Skyview before and we didn’t shoot well because the rims aren’t very good.
“We just have to focus on our game and not get too overexcited.”