Ninilchik looks to prolong run at top of state

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2002

The Ninilchik girls have become the "ER" of the Alaska basketball world -- different cast of characters, but always near or at the top.

As the small-schools basketball season gets under way in earnest with conference games dotting the Kenai Peninsula this weekend, the Wolverines once again are shaping up as one of the top teams in Class 2A.

Last year, Ninilchik won its second straight Class 2A state title and fourth overall. The Wolverines lost a pair of starters from that team, but return Dan Leman, the Class 1-2A girls coach of the year; Whitney Leman, a junior who was named Class 1-2A player of the year, and Molly Bosick, a senior all-state player.

"(The two departed starters) added a lot to what we did, but at the same time we were pretty deep last year," coach Leman said. "I don't think we'll miss a beat with the two we have stepping up and replacing them."

As usual, the Wolverines have had trouble finding a comfortable resting position on their laurels. Ninilchik players attended camps and open gyms during the off-season. This is a team that knows how to get ready to have a target on its back.

"The kids have been through this enough, having a target on their back, so to speak, that they don't let that faze them too much," Leman said. "They don't spend a lot of time thinking about that. They pay attention to what they're supposed to be doing."

Of course, as a small-schools champion, Ninilchik always will be vulnerable in one area.

"The biggest worry I have is making it through the season intact without any kind of injuries," Leman said. "I think we're going to be one of the best teams in the state. When the tournament rolls around, we'll fight to defend our championship."

The Wolverines also have won every District 3/2A title since 1993 and other coaches in the district said they are favored to repeat again.

On the boys side of District 3/2A, Cook Inlet Academy and Bristol Bay, the state qualifiers from the district last year, both took some heavy hits due to graduation. Most coaches seemed to think this left the door open for any number of teams to qualify for state this season.

In District 3/3A, Nikiski girls coach Ward Romans will look to take his team to its 10th district title in 13 years. The Bulldogs, who finished fourth in the state last year, and Seward represented the district at state last year. As usual, there will be a host of challengers for the senior-laden team of Romans.

"Honestly, I think it's really balanced with Grace, Heritage, ACS, Seward and Houston," Romans said. "There's going to be a pretty exciting balance to the season.

"With all the travel that goes on in our district, a team can be vulnerable on any given night."

On the boys side of District 3/3A, Nikiski takes an experienced squad and looks to improve on its third-place finish at the district tournament a year ago. Grace and ACS were the district's representatives at state last year.

"Our region always shapes up to be a tough region," Bulldogs coach Reid Kornstad said. "Traditionally, ACS is tough every year. I also look for Heritage as one to look out for.

"Grace has the tradition, and they're always well-coached and organized."

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

DISTRICT 3/3A GIRLS

NIKISKI BULLDOGS

Head coach: Ward Romans (13th year).

Key returners: Sally Glaze, sr.; April Lofstedt, sr.; Joy Carr, sr.; Karen Rabung, jr.; Amanda Weaver, sr.; Emilee Gillaspie, sr.; Katie Floyd, jr.

Key newcomers: Kathryn Coveyou, fr.; Lynzie Ellis, soph.

Outlook:

The Bulldogs are off to a 2-3 start, but have faced tough competition in the early season. They are 1-0 in district play.

Romans said he didn't shy away from the tough schedule because he knew his senior-laden team would benefit from tough games.

"We've definitely faced some adversity this year," Romans said. "I'm excited about what that's generated in practice. It's made the team work extra hard.

"I'm excited to get into the full swing of conference."

Romans also said the Bulldogs owe a lot of their success over the years to assistants Vern Kornstad and Micki Patterson.

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

Head coach: Roger Steinbrecher (eighth year)

Key returners: Ruth Banse, sr.; Tara Ganser, sr.; Kristy Regis, sr.; Willow Hetrick, jr.; Tara DeRuwe, jr.; Michelle Dieckgraeff, jr; Ann Linville, jr.

Key newcomers: none.

Outlook:

The Seahawks are off to a 1-7 start after playing all Class 4A schools except for Nikiski. The schedule has been made tougher by injuries. Seward has had its full starting lineup healthy for just two games.

"I think we're on the ropes a bit here," Steinbrecher said. "We need to recover, and recover fast.

"Hopefully, all of our injuries will be healed by the time we start conference."

DISTRICT 3/3A BOYS

NIKISKI BULLDOGS

Head coach: Reid Kornstad (third season).

Key returners: Ryan Bowlin, sr.; Josh Reilly, sr.; Jason Gerke, sr.; Ryan Crumpacker, sr.; David Holloway, sr.

Key newcomers: Kevin Gerke; Rustin Hitchcock, jr.; John Rooper, sr.; Jeremiah Taylor, soph.

Outlook:

Off to a 6-3 start, Kornstad said this is the best team he's had in his three years record-wise. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.

"We need to have a championship approach to practice," Kornstad said. "We need to improve the way we practice, so we have game situations in practice.

"We always work hard. I never question the effort. Mentally, though, we have to learn to have championship-type practices."

SEWARD SEAHAWKS

Head coach: Rob Hassen (first year).

Key returners: Victor Miller, sr.; Jake Boulden, sr.; Chris Clemens, sr.; Jonah Swiderski, jr.; Doug Jones, jr.

Key newcomers: none.

Outlook:

Hassen is the fourth coach in three years in Seward, so he said one of his first orders of business is to establish consistency within the program. After that, he'd like to establish the team's inside game and rebounding.

"When we do those two things, we can play with anybody," Hassen said.

The coach cited a pair of early season games against Kenai. The Seahawks, when they were rebounding and getting the ball down low, lost to the Kardinals by a few points. Against Kenai at the SoHi Tipoff, Seward didn't do those two things and lost badly.

DISTRICT 3/2A GIRLS

COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN SCHOOL KNIGHTS

Head coach: Dona Wolford (first year).

Key returners: Deanna Baugh, jr.; Shelby Seymour, jr.; Lindsey Wolford, sr.; Anna Keim, soph.; Aimee Beachy, jr.

Key newcomers: Sara Arsenault, fr.

Outlook:

The Knights are off to a 2-4 start this year, even though, due to injury, they are only suiting up five players right now.

"We're doing a lot of conditioning," Wolford said. "We're doing a lot better."

In addition to not having a lot of depth, the Knights also don't have a ton of experience. They return just two starters from last year.

COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES

Head coach: Greg Bell (first year).

Key returners: Chantal Reese, sr.; Mandy Evans, jr.; Jessica Hall, jr.; Miranda Zindel, jr.; Katie Zimmerman, soph; Shannon Powers, jr.

Key newcomers: Alyse Bell, fr.

Outlook:

Bell said he has a quick team that's started off the season 5-1, but knows he will have to mix some intensity in with that quickness if the Eagles are to keep up with teams like Ninilchik and Seldovia.

"We're working hard on getting our defense better and more intense," he said. "We're going to have to pick up the intensity level a bunch to compete with those type of intense teams that press and run the whole game."

Bell also would like to see Zindel develop as an inside player to complement the many quick outside shooters on the team.

NIKOLAEVSK SCHOOL WARRIORS

Head coach: Brent Keene (first year)

Key returners: none.

Key newcomers: none.

Outlook:

The Warriors haven't fielded a team for the past two years, so, naturally, they're a bit inexperienced. Their roster includes five freshmen, two seniors, a sophomore and a junior.

"We're dealing a lot with fundamentals and the basic game of basketball," Keene said. "Hopefully, by the end of the year, we'll be competitive."

Nikolaevsk has had to drive to Anchor Point to practice due to construction at the Warriors' gym. Keene said things would get much easier when the new gym in Nikolaevsk opens next week.

"The program's in the development stage now," Keene said. "If the girls keep with it for a couple years, we'll have a good ballclub."

NINILCHIK SCHOOL WOLVERINES

Head coach: Dan Leman (12th year).

Key returners: Whitney Leman, jr.; Molly Bosick, sr.; Brieanna Leman, sr.; Janelle Moerlein, sr.; Kelsey Deiman, jr.; Amanda Matson, soph.; Mia Johnson, jr.; Amanda Peterson, soph.

Key newcomers: Katie Moerlein, soph.; Dylan McKee, fr.

Outlook:

The Wolverines will start their title defense with three tough games against Heritage, Delta and Glennallen at the Heritage Touranment Thursday through Saturday.

"They're ready to go after practicing six weeks without a game," Leman said. "The kids are chomping at the bit. They're ready for some action."

SUSAN B. ENGLISH SCHOOL (SELDOVIA) SEA OTTERS

Head coach: Dan Beck (first year).

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

Key newcomers: none.

Outlook:

The Sea Otters lost a pair of starters off the team that qualified for state last year, but the big news is the return of Geagel. Geagel didn't play at state after injuring her knee in the district tournament. She had off-season surgery, and was the MVP of the Yakutat Tournament, where Seldovia got its season off to a 3-0 start.

"The doctor says the knee is stronger now than it was before the injury," Beck said. "She did some pretty intensive rehab on it."

Beck, who helped out with the Seldovia boys team last year, said his team only has seven members, so everybody will have a key role to play.

"I worry about foul trouble," the coach said. "I'm concentrating on keeping them playing clean -- moving the feet instead of swinging the hands and arms."

DISTRICT 3/2A BOYS

COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN SCHOOL KNIGHTS

Head coach: Steve Tutt (first year).

Key returners: Joshua Veldstra, sr.; Shiloh Seymour, sr.; Peter Resetarits, soph.; Noah Douglas, soph.; Jamie Arndt, soph.

Key newcomers: none.

Outlook:

The Knights lost three starters from last year's team, returning just Veldstra and Seymour.

"CCS has those two big guys," Nikolaevsk coach Steve Klaich said. "They're seniors and exciting ballplayers."

Wolford, the girls coach at the school, said the boys team is young and athletic, but still needs a little refining.

COOK INLET ACADEMY EAGLES

Head coach: Tim Keener (10th season).

Key returners: Justin Franchino, sr.; Calder Hillyer, jr.; Jacob Peterson, jr.; Luke Meyer, jr.; Bryan Powers, soph.

Key newcomers: Blake Gabriel, fr.; Ronnie Rainey, fr.; Brian Beeson, fr.

Outlook:

The Eagles lost Class 1-2A player of the year Chet Nettles to graduation, and lost some other backcourt players to transfer. This has left CIA a little inexperienced in the backcourt, but the Eagles have still managed a 5-1 start.

"Right now we have a couple players struggling with the offense, but they'll come around," Keener said. "We've got a lot of work to do at both ends of the floor before we've got everybody on the same page."

However, Keener thinks everybody will get squared away because the team is spiritually fit.

"They all believe in God, and they act like it," Keener said. "They don't have any problems getting along together. There's a chemistry there because of spiritual fitness."

NIKOLAEVSK SCHOOL WARRIORS

Head coach: Steve Klaich (12th year)

Key returners: Tim Efimov, sr.; Fedosa Efimov, sr.; Denis Basargin, jr.; Peter Tipiken, soph.

Key newcomers: Jake Bailey, soph.; Terry Usoltseff, soph.

Outlook:

Before Klaich lost a senior that decided not to play basketball this year, the coach was looking at earning a trip to state.

"With that one loss, we still could be there," Klaich said. "It's a big hurdle to overcome. If the kids play together, we still should be one of the better teams in the district."

Klaich is excited about the new gym, with a full-size court, that is scheduled to be ready Tuesday. The Warriors will play their first home game in the gym Thursday. Up until now, Nikolaevsk has had to travel all the way to Anchor Point to practice.

NINILCHIK SCHOOL WOLVERINES

Head coach: Chris Hanson (first year).

Key returners: Buck Kvasnikoff, sr.; Jesse Hostetter, sr.; Steven Miller, jr.; John Matson, sr.; Salty Bock, sr.

Key newcomers: Jason Scholenburg, soph.

Outlook:

After coaching in Hydaburg for four four years, Hanson sat in as an assistant for two state titles with the Wolverines girls before agreeing to take the boys job.

Hanson said the key this year for Ninilchik, which never has had problems scoring, will be defense.

"Everything," he said, when asked what the Wolverines need to work on defensively. "We don't have enough time to talk about the things we need improvement in on defense.

"I think you know defense wins big games down the line. Those are the games the kids want to win, so we're making defense a priority."

SUSAN B. ENGLISH SCHOOL (SELDOVIA) SEA OTTERS

Head coach: John Gruber (fifth year).

Key returners: Nick Oliveira, jr.; Bryan Chartier, sr.; Justin Giles, sr.; Tom Bowdon, jr.

Key newcomers: Chance Collier, soph.; Charles Pulliam, soph.

Outlook:

The Sea Otters went 0-3 at the Yakutat Tournament, but Gruber was happy with the way his team played.

"We've got a lot of young guys learning as we go here," Gruber said.

Many of Gruber's past teams were content to run and gun until the score reached the 70s, 80s and 90s. This year should be different.

"We have the potential to be a better club if we slow down and play a controlled game," Gruber said. "We have a 6-foot-3 and a 6-foot-1 kid, plus we have some good ballhandlers out front.

"Yakutat was scoring 80 and 90 points a game, but we slowed them down and they only scored 61."



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