Soldotna's April Heffner takes a shot over Wasilla's Jessica Carter in the fourth quarter Saturday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Leading by 28 with under four minutes to play in the Northern Lights Conference championship game, Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax was still stomping her foot and berating her players.
“You’re up by 30. There’s no reason to go in there and let the team go down and win by 20,” she said. “You should win by 30.”
So, when it comes to motivating her girls, Hebert-Truax gets creative.
Every foul the Warriors committed down the stretch meant more running at practice.
“I’ve got to figure out what I can to motivate them,” she said. “It tends to work.”
Clearly it does.
With a dominating 61-41 victory over Soldotna on Saturday night, Wasilla captured it’s seventh straight regional tournament title and it’s mind-boggling 88th consecutive NLC victory.
“(We) had dynamite defense,” she said. “I think we stymied Soldotna in the first half and just kept going from there.”
The Stars weren’t taking the loss too hard, though, as they already qualified for state for the first time in five years with a 47-34 semifinal win over Skyview on Friday.
“We have played some teams that don’t play at that level, and this one gets us ready to see where we need to be and to get after it again,” said SoHi coach Mark Tuter.
The Warriors’ owned significant advantages with their speed and powerful inside game, which began unfolding from the opening tip-off.
Three early turnovers by Soldotna led to a quick 7-0 hole and lay-ups by Wasilla’s Jenna Johnson and Anne Wesser who each scored a game-high 16 points made it 13-7 after eight minutes.
The Stars were a dismal 2-for-13 in the second period while Wasilla went right back to Wesser and Johnson.
Following Soldotna’s seventh turnover of the game only 1:23 into the second, Wesser was fed underneath for an easy bucket and added two more on a baseline drive a couple of minutes later.
Johnson then made it a 14-point cushion when she followed up Wesser’s miss with a putback with 2:43 to play in the half.
“They shoot real well. I’m not surprised by the outcome and the way it happened,” Tuter said. “I was hoping we would shoot a little better, make it a little closer and see what happens down the end.”
While SoHi struggled from the field (16-of-52), Wesser capped her eight-point third quarter when she danced through the lane, dribbled circles around defenders and laid it in for a 45-23 advantage.
“I thought Anne Wesser had a big game inside taking them to the rack and scoring some buckets she’s been having trouble with lately,” Hebert-Truax said.
It was much of the same in the fourth as Wasilla strung together an 8-1 run to open the frame before a free throw by senior Hillarie Putnam made it 22 points off of 22 Soldotna turnovers.
Despite the lopsided setback, Tuter learned a lot heading into the state tournament.
“We need to be able to play harder and faster and play well at a higher rate of speed than what we normally do,” he said, “Get out of that comfort zone.”
The Stars victory over Skyview on Friday wasn’t as easy as it appeared.
Soldotna's Karen Duffy, left, tries to keep the ball from Wasilla's Anne Wessner behind teammate Jenni Stenga (20) in the third quarter Saturday during the Northern Lights Conference championship game.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Trailing 11-4 after the first period, Skyview used a 12-0 run to close the first half leading by two.
“This team likes to do that and we’ve done it in multiple games this year where we go down early and then we put a run together. If we could just play that consistent throughout, we’d be a fantastic team,” Skyview coach Ronnie Kier said.
The Stars regained their momentum, though, stringing together a 12-0 run of their own spanning the third and fourth quarters and limited the Panthers to a 1-for-12 performance from the field to end the game.
Senior Mikala Smith also scored all eight of her points in the final frame.
“We absolutely needed to have it there,” Tuter said. “She kind of got going in taking the ball to the hoop and she did a very very good job on that.”
Smith was thrilled to make state for the first time in her high school career.
“It’s so exciting. We’ve never been there. Last chance for us, all four seniors,” she said. “We knew we had been playing bad and we knew if we picked it up and played smart, we could come back. It was kind of scary but we made it through it.”
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STARS 47, PANTHERS 34
Soldotna 11 6 12 18 47
Skyview 4 15 5 10 34
SOLDOTNA (47) Graves 1 6-7 8, Senette 2 2-2 8, Jes. Stenga 1 0-2 2, Kennedy 0 4-4 4, Jen. Stenga 1 1-3 3, Barker 2 2-2 8, Duffy 5 1-2 11, Blackburn 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 17-22 47.
SKYVIEW (34) Massey 1 0-0 3, Penrod 0 4-6 4, Fay 2 4-4 10, Van Ryzin 4 2-3 12, Mercier 1 0-0 2, West 0 3-6 3. Totals 8 13-19 34.
3-point goals Soldotna 4 (Senette 2, Barker 2) Skyview 5 (Fay 2, Van Ryzin 2, Massey). Total fouls Soldotna 19, Skyview 21. Fouled out Martin.
WARRIORS 61, STARS 41
Wasilla 13 16 16 16 61
Soldotna 7 5 11 18 41
WASILLA (61) Wesser 8 0-0 16, Fulton 4 1-2 9, Putnam 1 3-4 5, Brown 2 0-0 5, Johnson 6 4-5 16, Cronk 0 4-6 4, Husmann 1 0-0 2, Carter 2 0-0 4. Totals 24 12-17 61.
SOLDOTNA (33) M. Smith 0 1-5 1, Heffner 2 0-0 4, Jes. Stenga 1 0-1 2, Kennedy 5 1-4 11, Donaldson 0 3-4 3, Jen. Stenga 2 2-4 6, Hardy 1 0-2 5, Duffy 3 1-2 7. Totals 16 8-22 41.
3-point goals Soldotna 1 (Barker), Wasilla 1 (Brown). Total fouls Soldotna 15, Wasilla 23. Fouled out none.
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