Peninsula's small schools ready to hit the hardwood

Nikiski, Ninilchik girls look to defend state titles; peninsula boys look for breakthrough at state tournament

Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2001

In recent years, the Nikiski and Ninilchik girls basketball teams always seem to be in one of two roles -- in the thick of the race for the state title or defending the state title.

This year, as the small-schools basketball season revs up across the peninsula, Bulldogs coach Ward Romans and Wolverines coach Dan Leman will fall back into the familiar role of defending a state title.

Last season, Romans' Bulldogs grabbed their fifth Class 3A state title since 1992. Nikiski has already won back-to-back titles in 1992-93 and 1996-97.

This year, the Bulldogs add talented transfer Karen Rabung to a squad that already features senior Laura Berdahl, who was second team all-state last year, and junior Sally Glaze, who was honorable mention all-state last year.

"One thing I've learned in over 10 years of coaching experience, and having had some success in the past, is that repeating is always harder," Romans said. "You're a marked team. You know game in and game out that teams are going to bring their best. You can count on that.

"Another thing that makes it tougher is the 3A girls keep improving."

Romans said two teams to look out for this year in District 3/3A are Seward, which last year missed the state tournament for the first time under coach Roger Steinbrecher, and Anchorage Christian Schools, the Class 3A runner-up last season.

Steinbrecher, now in his seventh season with the Seahawks, said he would add Heritage Christian and Houston to the list of solid teams in the league that will vie for just two spots at state.

Leman's Wolverines grabbed their third Class 2A state title in the last five years last year by defeating Seldovia in the title game. Ninilchik also won titles in 1996 and 1997.

"We've done it before," said Leman, when asked how hard it would be to defend last year's crown. "It's not something we haven't done, but that doesn't make it any easier.

"There are quality teams out there across the board. There are not too many teams that were hit as hard by graduation as we were."

The Wolverines lost Class 2A player of the year Theresa Chihuly, first-team all-state player Tasha Leman and Corina Sullivan to graduation. However, Leman will be able to build around returning starters Whitney Leman, also a first-team all-state player, and Molly Bosick.

One team Leman and the rest of the state are watching out for is Seldovia. The Sea Otters lost six times last year, but all of those losses came to Ninilchik. The final loss to the Wolverines was in the state championship game.

Seldovia lost just one starter from that team.

"Seldovia jumps out at you," Leman said. "They were the state runner-up and they have just about all of their players returning from last year's team.

"I think they're just itching to get at us."

In District 3/3A boys play, peninsula teams Seward and Nikiski will both have to contend with defending Class 3A state champion Grace Christian.

Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad said he also is expecting teams like ACS, Houston and Heritage to make the district's two state berths hard to come by.

In District 3/2A, the two teams most often mentioned as favorites for the district's two state berths were Bristol Bay and Seldovia. Both teams earned state trips last year and weren't hit extremely hard by graduation.

The following is a closer look at the peninsula's small schools basketball teams.

DISTRICT 3/3A GIRLS

NIKISKI BULLDOGS

1999-00: 23-4 overall

Head coach: Ward Romans (11th year)

Key returners: Laura Berdahl, sr.; Sally Glaze, jr.; April Lofstedt, jr.; Mindy Cason, jr.; Amanda Weaver, jr.; Emilee Gillaspie, jr.; Joy Carr, jr.

Key newcomers: Karen Rabung, soph.

Key losses: Tiffany Cason, Jessica Carr, Dayna Pritchard, Maggie Kendall.

Outlook:

Romans said Berdahl, the team's only senior, will play a big part in the team's success this season.

"She has great leadership and effort in practice," Romans said. "In Laura, we feel like we've got a player who's as good as any post player in the state of Alaska."

Some were surprised to see the Bulldogs lose to Kenai in the Peninsula Challenge semifinals Friday, but Romans said the loss will do the team good in the long run.

"We have great chemistry and a talented team," Romans said. "We're just inexperienced together. We need time for everyone to understand their roles and niches."

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

1999-00: 15-9

Head coach: Roger Steinbrecher (seventh year)

Key returners: Erin Carr, sr.; Paula Banic, sr.; Carri Fisher, sr.; Ruth Banse, jr.; Tara Ganser, jr.; Kristi Regis, jr.; Michelle Dieckgraeff, soph.; Tara DeRuwe, soph.; Ann Linville, soph.; Willow Hetrick, soph.

Key newcomers: none.

Key losses: Krystal Gifford, Marcie Zimmerman.

Outlook:

The Seahawks have all spent a lot of time playing together, and Steinbrecher hopes that will show as the season unfolds. However, Steinbrecher said the Seahawks will need that experience because the league is expected to be tough this season.

"You just can't look past anybody," Steinbrecher said. "We have the makings of a good ballclub, but so do a lot of other teams."

DISTRICT 3/3A BOYS

NIKISKI BULLDOGS

1999-00: 8-15 overall

Head coach: Reid Kornstad (second year)

Key returners: David Holloway, jr.; Robert Anderson, sr.; Chris Roofe, sr.; Josh Reilly, jr.; Jason Gerke, jr.; Ryan Crumpacker, jr.; Ryan Bowlin, jr.

Key newcomers: Rustin Hitchcock, soph.; Steve Carlson, soph.; Geoff Sanger, jr.; Ian Mellburg, jr.; Brandon Huhndorf, jr.

Key losses: Jamie Queen, Jeremy Kouf, Casey Heath, Scott Carlson.

Outlook:

Nikiski has gotten off to a slow start, posting an 0-4 record thus far. However, with Holloway as the only returning starter, Kornstad is looking for improvement over the season, not a blazing beginning.

"We've already seen big improvement," Kornstad said. "They're a great bunch of guys and they work very hard. They love being together and have great chemistry.

"They're willing to do what it takes to get better and I see them getting better each day in practice."

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

1999-00: 10-11 overall in regular season

Head coach: Cliff Draper (first year)

Key returners: Devin Loomis, sr.; Jake Elhard, sr.; Luke Davis, sr.; Jonah Swiderski, soph.; Tom Buchanan, sr.

Key newcomers: none.

Key losses: Clint Draper, Ryan Lewis, Blake Varnell, Brian Blankenship, John Hamilton.

Outlook:

The Seahawks lost a bunch of seniors -- including all of their starters -- to graduation and have a different coach this year so they are off to a slow start.

"They're steadily improving," Draper said. "They just don't have any game experience. The kids on the team had very limited playing time last year.

"They're not adjusted to the speed of a varsity ballgame yet."

DISTRICT 3/2A GIRLS

COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN SCHOOL KNIGHTS

1999-00: 15-6

Head coach: Steve Tutt (16th year)

Key returners: Shera Packa, sr.; Liz Reodl, sr.; Rose Sinnhuber, soph.

Key newcomers: Beanna Baugh, soph.; Shelby Seymor, soph.; Cristi Case, soph.

Key losses: Stephanie Benner, Kristina Arno, Kristen Engebretsen, Michelle Allison, Kelly Clay.

Outlook:

Packa is the only returning starter, so in order for the Knights to be successful a lot of players will have to adjust to new roles on the varsity.

"We're pretty much having to get acquainted with each other," Tutt said. "This group hasn't had a chance to play together before. We're working toward putting all the pieces of the puzzle together."

COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES

1999-00: n/a

Head coach: Jeff Hultberg (third year)

Key returners: Kristen Zimmerman, sr.; Brittany Leiter, sr.; Chantal Reese, jr.; Sara McLeod, soph.

Key newcomers: Katie Zimmerman, fr.

Key losses: Taryn Reese, Tabitha Hillyer.

Outlook:

Hultberg returns four starters from last year's team, so the team is ahead of where it was at this point last year.

"We have better intensity and emotion is effecting us less on the court," Hultberg said. "We also have better team unity."

However, Hultberg said the team has a number of things to work on. Two of them are rebounding and defensive intensity.

NIKOLAEVSK SCHOOL

WARRIORS

Nikolaevsk does not have the numbers to field a girls team this season.

NINILCHIK SCHOOL

WOLVERINES

Head coach: Dan Leman (11th year)

Key returners: Whitney Leman, soph.; Molly Bosick, jr.; Jessica Russo, sr.; Courtney Hansen, sr.; Breanna Leman, jr.; Janelle Moerlein, jr.; Kelsey Deiman, soph.; Maria Johnson, soph.

Key newcomers: Amanda Matson, fr.; Amanda Petersen, fr.; Jessica Sullivan, fr.

Key losses: Theresa Chihuly, Tasha Leman, Corina Sullivan.

Outlook:

Although graduation hit the Wolverines up for three major losses, Leman still feels they have enough depth to engage in their usual pressing and running style.

He also is looking for big things from remaining starters Leman and Bosick.

"They're the obvious people we need to step up and be leaders," coach Leman said. "Even though Whitney is a sophomore, she played a big part as a freshman and was first-team all state herself. She's a player.

"Molly's a third-year varsity player. She's an excellent defensive player and rebounder."

SUSAN B. ENGLISH SCHOOL (SELDOVIA) SEA OTTERS

1999-00: n/a

Head coach: Sara Nichols (second year)

Key returners: Jacquelyn Brown, sr.; Michelle Gruber, jr.; Jaime Geagel, soph.; Amelia Dillon, soph.

Key newcomers: Amy Gruber, fr.; Emily Mikelson, fr.

Key losses: Ana Chartier, Jennifer Oliveira.

Chartier was a solid starter, while Oliveira was a substitute who could come in without the Sea Otters skipping a beat.

Nichols still has a outstanding starting five, but she is worried about her bench.

"Depth is going to be a problem," Nichols said. "If I can steer clear of foul trouble at key times and injuries I should be all right."

DISTRICT 3/2A BOYS

COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN SCHOOL KNIGHTS

1999-00: 14-10

Head coach: Dave Edens (sixth year)

Key returners: Karl Keim, sr.; Joshua Veldstra, jr.; Phillip Jones, sr.

Key newcomers: none.

Key losses: none.

Edens gets a team that is big, mature and experienced -- all things that can be huge assets in small-schools basketball.

"We have five seniors. That's the most seniors I think I've ever had on a team," Edens said. "I think we have some good rebounding strength. We have five or six kids over 6 foot."

COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES

1999-00: n/a

Head coach: Tim Keener (ninth season)

Key returners: Justin Franchino, jr.; Stephen Staton, jr.; Calder Hillyer, soph.; Chet Nettles, sr.; Anthony Agosti, soph.

Key newcomers: Luke Meyer, soph.; Kyle Nettles, fr.; Greg Brown, fr.

Key losses: Noah Shields, Eric Minelga.

Outlook:

The Eagles got a big boost when Chet Nettles decided to return to Cook Inlet Academy from Soldotna High School. He already is averaging over 20 points per game.

Nettles' presence is made even more important by the lack of seniors on CIA's roster. However, Keener isn't worried about lack of experience being his team's downfall.

"I think they're experienced for the age that they are," Keener said. "That's starting to show. They're starting to gel as a team.

"Plus, because they are so young, there's a lot of room for improvement, but they should improve quickly."

NIKOLAEVSK SCHOOL

WARRIORS

1999-00: n/a

Head coach: Steve Klaich (11th season)

Key returners: Efsay Ivanov, sr.; Kiril Martushev, jr.; Tim Efimov, jr.; Fedosa Efimov, jr.; Kirion Martushev, jr.; Denis Basargin, soph.; Joe Yakunin, soph.; Sam Kuzmin, soph.

Key newcomers: Peter Tipikin, fr.

Key losses: Dmitry Martusheff.

Outlook:

Klaich is hoping that his team is fast enough and solid enough shooting from the outside to overcome a lack of height.

"I think we've got a lot of team speed," Klaich said. "We have a lot of dedicated kids, and we should be a good shooting team.

"We're a real tough defensive team, but we're lacking a bit in height."

NINILCHIK SCHOOL

WOLVERINES

1999-00: 10-12

Head coach: Bernie Clark (11th season)

Key returners: Josh Smith, sr.; David Boyle, sr.; Chris Kruzick, sr.; Buck Kvasnikoff, jr.; Jesse Hostetter, jr.; Dale Stradford, sr.; Steven Miller, soph.

Key newcomer: John Matson, jr.

Key losses: Kevin Cleveland, Noah George.

Although the Wolverines will not get in their first game of the season until today, Clark said the late start to the schedule is welcome.

"Our kids did real well at the state wrestling tournament," Clark said. "We were the top scoring Class 2A team. Six kids on my team were wrestlers, so we didn't have practice with a complete team until January.

"The late start has been a blessing in disguise."

Clark said he has a team of good athletes and shooters, but he said a lack of height will mean his players will have to scrap on the boards to stay competitive.

SUSAN B. ENGLISH SCHOOL (SELDOVIA) SEA OTTERS

1999-00: 23-5

Head coach: John Gruber (fourth season)

Key returners: Jeremiah Dillon, sr.; Jeff Swick, sr.; Bryan Chartier, jr.

Key newcomers: Charles Pulliam, fr.

Key losses: Matt Brown, Daewon Michelson.

Outlook:

Gruber has had a reputation for quick, guard-orientated teams that like to push the tempo, but this year that could change due to personnel.

"We've got a fairly big team," Gruber said. "It's going to be a 180-degree turnaround from the last couple of years.

"We'll have to do some things differently on offense and defense because we're not as quick as we were last year."



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