Team Yukon's Roslyn Tate and Kim Carter use a rolled-up poster to communicate at Cook Inlet Academy before the start of the boys gold ulu game. Loud fans and packed gyms were the norm during the Arctic Winter Games this week.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
If a Kenai resident were on the prowl for a video of Friday’s gold ulu matchup between Team Alaska and Team Northwest Territories, they wouldn’t need to look very far. At least a half dozen camcorders captured the final junior girl’s basketball game, and chances are at least a few of those videos will stay on the Kenai Peninsula.
The reason is simple: Team Alaska’s junior girls team, which won the gold 74-63, is the closest thing the Kenai area has to a home team. All but two members of the team are from the peninsula.
There are two team members from Kenai, three from Soldotna and three from Homer, with the remaining two from Wasilla.
“It’s definitely a home team,” said Deb Lowney, the team’s coach. “This is just so satisfying, it’s unbelievable.”
The crowds on hand throughout the week of Arctic Winter Games competition, she said, were predictably packed with peninsula residents.
“Several of the people that were here earlier nights had to go up and support the region (basketball) tournament, but we got another whole network of people tonight,” she said.
Northwest Territories' Roman Bourque and Yukons Beaver Steele tip off the gold ulu game at Cook Inlet Academy on Friday night.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Ted VanAntwerp, a fan from Soldotna whose daughter plays basketball with Team Alaska’s Karen Senette, was one of many in the crowd for the medal match who shouted out support through the game using the team members’ first names. He said seeing the team play as a unit was one of the more gratifying experiences of the Games.
“We’ve had the chance to watch them grow up,” he said.
The team only practiced together once before competition started, Lowney said, which makes their team spirit shine even brighter. The team members’ close proximity means they are basically a group of rivals together for one week of cooperative competition.
“It will continue to be after this,” said Judy Gonsalves, the mother of Lindsay Layton, a Homer High School student on Team Alaska.
“They’ll play each other for the next three years, actually, so it’s really astounding to see,”
Don Layland, Lindsay’s father, gives Lowney a lot of credit for the girls’ winning efforts.
“Deb did a really good job of pulling the girls from the different teams together and putting them out on the court as a team,” he said. “They fed off each other; it was really a great team effort.”
Lindsay said the shared experience of the Arctic Winter Games helped pull the team together, as well.
“Everybody’s bonded together, you know, we’ve eaten meals together, slept in the same room together it’s been pretty stinky, actually,” Layland said.
The team’s triumph is impressive to another Soldotna fan for a different reason. Jim Harris, who’s spent much of the week watching Games basketball matches, said Team Northwest Territories had emerged as a stellar one. By his reckoning, the two teams in the finals both had the talent to take the gold.
“There have been a lot of good games, all real competitive,” Harris said. “It’s amazing the quality of basketball we’re seeing.”
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