Peninsula Conference tourney kicks off

Posted: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Not only has the name of the Peninsula Conference Basketball Tournament changed, but the story line has changed, too.

The tournament used to be called the District 3/2A tournament, but was changed to Peninsula Conference as part of a sweeping reform of nomenclature ushered in by the Alaska School Activities Association this year.

The story line in the District 3/2A tournament, at least on the girls side, usually revolved around whether the top-seeded Ninilchik girls could defend their tournament title.

However, the Wolverines are neither top-seeded nor the defending champions at this tournament. Last year, Bristol Bay snapped Ninilchik's string of 11 straight tournament titles.

Last year, the Wolverines recovered from that loss to the Angels to win a fifth consecutive Class 2A state title. This year, Bristol Bay topped Ninilchik 50-42 early in the season to get the top seed. Ninilchik enters the tournament as the No. 2 seed.

Ninilchik coach Dan Leman, whose team is 17-3 overall, said his team does not feel it has something to prove because it does not have the No. 1 seed.

"I think they're just looking at it like they've got to play a tough team at some point," Leman said. "This year, there are tough teams no matter where you're at. It doesn't matter if we have the bye.

"We've just got to be playing tough basketball right now."

The Wolverines open the tournament against Cook Inlet Academy, the No. 3 seed, at 8:15 p.m. today. CIA lost to Ninilchik 43-14 on Dec. 16, but then lost to the Wolverines 50-44 on March 1.

Ninilchik is the tournament host, but the games will be played at Soldotna Middle School because Ninilchik's gym is not big enough to accommodate the tournament.

Leman said he would have preferred to get a home-court advantage by hosting the tournament, but said his squad will press on.

"We've played over half of our games on visitor's courts and we've done pretty well," Leman said. "We're looking to do the same at Soldotna."

The No. 4 seed for the girls will be Lumen Christi, while Nikolaevsk has the No. 5 seed.

On the boys side, a story line at the District 3/2A tournament was usually whether Cook Inlet Academy could manufacture a return trip to state.

Again, that story does not exist this year. The Eagles, who spent time as the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A last year, lost to Lumen Christi in the district championship game, then lost to Bristol Bay in the second-place game for a state berth. Before that loss, CIA had been to state in seven of the past eight years.

Eagles coach Bruce Gabriel said seniors Ryan Fowler, Brian Beeson, Andy Hall and Blake Gabriel are eager to make it back to state.

"It might have been a blessing not to go to state last year, because this year they want to get back bad," Bruce Gabriel said.

CIA is 22-0 overall this year and gets a first-round bye. However, Gabriel said his team can't get overconfident because No. 2 seed Ninilchik, No. 3 seed Bristol Bay, No. 4 seed Nikolaevsk, No. 5 seed Lumen Christi and No. 6 seed Seldovia each have offensive weapons.

"All it would take was for one of their guys to get hot and for two of our guys to have bad games and we could end up losing," Gabriel said.

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