Wasilla balances achievement with class -- The Wasilla girls and boys basketball teams won Northern Lights Conference championships on Saturday at Skyview High School, but this was not the first trip to Skyview for the champions this year.
In late January, the Warriors traveled just outside of Soldotna to take on the Panthers in the regular season. The Wasilla girls won 67-25, while the boys won 77-29.
Despite the blowouts, both Wasilla coaches were not happy after the victories.
"We didn't play well in the first quarter," Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax said. "Coach was not happy. I don't think the kids were ready to play."
Said former Homer standout and Wasilla boys coach Ryan Engebretsen: "Our execution was not where it has to be if we're going to be playing for championships at the end of the season."
Both coaches faced a delicate balancing act that night. Both wanted their teams to keep improving, but as the scores in the games got more lopsided, both faced the danger of looking inconsiderate by stepping on the gas pedal in a blowout.
Both coaches handled that delicate situation perfectly, by demanding performance out of their teams while also clearly demanding that their players treat the Panthers with respect.
Over her long, successful career at Wasilla, Hebert-Truax has earned a reputation as being fiery and demanding, yet classy. In 2008, early in his tenure at Wasilla, Engebretsen also set his program on the right course when he disciplined a player at the conference tournament even though it may have cost the Warriors a spot at the state tournament.
Both Wasilla teams deserve credit for winning, and winning the right way.
* Heart of a lion -- Normally, Ninilchik boys coach Keith Presley would have been the easy winner for perseverance at the Peninsula Conference tournament at Kenai Central High School.
Before this year's tourney, Presley had coached in seven conference tournaments, made the final six times, and earned zero state berths. That's because the loser in the final must come back and win the second-place game the next day. This year, Presley again lost in the final, but he came back to win on Saturday to earn his first state berth.
But Presley was outdone by Ninilchik senior point guard Lindsey Rohr. In Thursday's opening round game against Seldovia, Rohr smacked her head on the floor, resulting in a bloody mess.
"You should have seen the locker room," Ninilchik coach Rod Van Saun said of the aftermath of attending to the injury. "It was not pretty."
Rohr came back to help the Wolverines win that game. On Friday in the championship game vs. Cook Inlet Academy, Rohr scored seven straight points in the third quarter to give her squad the first lead of the game at 23-22, although the Eagles came back to win.
In the second-place game on Saturday against Seldovia, Rohr hit two 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter that both Van Saun and Seldovia coach Jeff Swick said were pivotal Ninilchik's comeback win.
Van Saun himself said it best: "Rohr has the heart of a lion."
Holding a six-point lead heading into the final quarter against Kenai Central in the Northern Lights Conference third-place game, Kodiak's girls essentially had the game won. The Bears ground the game down to a halt, attempting just two field goals the entire fourth quarter. Kodiak, and every other team for that matter, can use this tactic due to a lack of a shot clock.
The same goes for the end of each period. With just under a minute left in the third quarter, Bears head coach Brett Laresen yelled, "Back out," as one of his players squared up for a shot from the free-throw line. She kicked the ball out to a guard and Kodiak bled the clock, preventing Kenai from having another possession.
A lack of a shot clock takes away the losing team's ability to play tough defense as a means of creating offense. The team is reduced to fouling to not only stop the clock but also to regain possession of the ball.
Having no shot clock wasn't the determining factor in Kenai's loss -- it went 1-of-11 from the field in the fourth quarter -- but it certainly played in Kodiak's favor. With just eight-minute periods, it's easy to eat time off the clock by passing around the perimeter.
With fouling as a last -- and only -- resort, the winning team just has to hit its free throws to seal the game. Easier said than done, but if a team was forced to shoot, solid defense would be rewarded. Even a 45-second shot clock, which is plenty of time to get an open look, would force teams to play an entire 32 minutes, instead of 24.
And not to single Kodiak out. I'm not blaming Larsen. He played the game to win and used everything to his advantage to do so. If the rules allow that type of play, why wouldn't coaches slow the final quarter down when holding a lead? I would.
Those rules need to change. The Alaska Schools Activities Association needs to implement a shot clock for high school basketball.
Mike Nesper and Jeff Helminiak work in the sports department at the Peninsula Clarion. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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