Like anything with a solid foundation, the girls and boys basketball programs are built to stick around for a while.
The boys and girls are coached by the husband and wife team of Steve and Bea Klaich. The couple has turned the community into a basketball hotbed and both Warriors squads qualified for the Class 1A state tournament this year.
Steve Klaich did a quick back-of-the envelope calculation and said 70 percent of the high school and five of the seven eighth-graders are playing hoops.
“We started several years ago trying to build a program from elementary school up,” Klaich said. “We wanted to teach a lot of fundamental skills to the young kids and emphasize fundamental basketball.”
The emphasis on fundamentals has worked at the junior high level, where the Nikolaevsk girls have been the top small-schools team on the Peninsula for four straight years.
“The boys and girls are coming into high school as solid basketball players,” Klaich said. “The parents are supportive of the kids and the kids are attending multiple camps each year.
“It’s a great basketball culture.”
The Nikolaevsk girls, fresh off their second-straight Peninsula Conference championship, are making their third-straight trip to state and seeking their first state title.
The Warriors (22-2 overall), who open play against Buckland at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at West High, finished second at 1A state last season to Cook Inlet Academy.
Buckland won the consolation tournament at the 1A tourney last year after losing to CIA in the first round.
“From what I understand, they shoot 3-pointers pretty consistently,” Bea Klaich said. “They have bigger girls that can post up and play inside.
“Hopefully, they aren’t used to playing against 6-foot-1.”
That would be senior Nianiella Dorvall, who has averaged 12.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor.
With fellow senior Sophia Kalugin, the Warriors have a formidable post tandem. Kalugin averages 10.8 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game while hitting 47 percent from the floor.
But Klaich said the nice thing about her team is that the post duo will have plenty of help in trying to cap their careers as state champs.
“Both seniors have definitely brought the team along, and both are very unselfish team players,” Klaich said. “They don’t feel like all the pressure is on them to do this.
“Everyone contributes in some way or the other.”
Also in the starting lineup will be junior Kilina Klaich, sophomore Serafima Kalugin and sophomore Kayla Stafford. Sophomore Megan Hickman provides valuable defense and guard play off the bench.
Klaich said that, aided by plenty of state experience, her team is ready to roll.
“This is a great bunch of girls,” Klaich said. “They have a lot of fun together. They’re ready to put their best foot forward and we’ll see what type of competition we run into.”
While the info on the Nikolaevsk girls’ first-round opponent is a little sketchy, the foe for the Nikolaevsk boys in the first round needs no introduction.
The Warriors (16-6) drew Klawock, the defending Class 1A state champs led by Tyrus Morgan. Some welcome back to Nikolaevsk in its first state berth since 1997.
The game is slated for 8:45 p.m. Saturday at West High School.
Steve Klaich also said he heard post player Matt Peters is tough.
“It sounds like Tyrus loves to take the ball to the rim and the other post can hit at the 3-point line,” Klaich said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
Klaich said the Warriors have handled some tall teams in conference play.
“I’ve got a couple boys at 6-1,” he said of sophomore Neil Gordeev and freshman Anfim Kalugin. “I think we’re going to rely a little more on speed and taking care of the ball. They like to press and generate turnovers.”
The Warriors will look to lone senior Anthony Yakunin for leadership. Yakunin also was the only returning starter this year.
“I’m thrilled with how they are playing right now,” Klaich said. “They’re a new group that hadn’t been playing together. They started the year between 20 and 30 turnovers a game, but the last few games they’ve cut it to 12 turnovers.”
Sophomore Jonah Fefelov, Gordeev, junior Jaruby Nelson, freshman Nikit Fefelov and sophomore Felemon Molodih are set to get extensive state experience.
Nelson leads the way with 17.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while Nikit Fefelov averages 9.1 points, Gordeev averages 8.6 points and 7.8 rebounds, and Jonah Fefelov averages 8.0 points.
“Between the state tournament and a good offseason, I look for us to be a very competitive team again next year,” Klaich said. “This experience of going to state will be a great springboard.”
But even though Klaich said Klawock starts five seniors, the Warriors aren’t turning the page to next year just yet.
“I have an athletic group of boys that love basketball and understand the real opportunity in front of them,” Klaich said. “It’s a great opportunity to step up, play basketball and be regarded as a quality team.”