Homer is a city known as the end of the road. It also will be the end of the road for 10 Region III/4A basketball teams in the 2002-03 season.
Eight girls teams and eight boys teams converge on Homer today for the Region III/4A basketball tournament. The top three boys and girls teams will move on to the state tournament next weekend at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena.
The boys and girls tournament favorite is Wasilla. Wasilla's boys and girls teams are both ranked No. 1 in Class 4A. Both have not lost a game this year in the state of Alaska.
Both Warriors teams finished up with 10-0 records in the region to earn the No. 1 seed out of the Northern Division.
The Wasilla girls have been dominant in the region. The closest a region team has gotten to them was Saturday, when the Warriors defeated Palmer 51-39.
The Wasilla boys had been just as dominant as the Wasilla girls, but things changed a little last weekend. Friday, Colony lost to Wasilla 53-49, then Saturday Palmer fell to the Warriors 44-35.
"I definitely would have said the Wasilla boys are the dominant team until a few days ago," Kenai coach Rich Bartolowits said. "Colony came real close then Palmer stayed close to them."
With Wasilla a good bet to snap up a state berth on the boys and girls sides, the big question becomes which other two teams on each side will get berths.
As usual, if regular-season records are an indicator, the Northern Division has an upper hand on the boys and girls sides.
In order to earn a berth to state, a Southern Division team will have to knock off a Northern Division team. This only happened once during the regular season in boys region play, when Kenai defeated Palmer 60-50 in mid-February.
Of course, the Kardinals also lost region games to Homer and Soldotna, so this reinforces the notion that anything can happen come tournament time.
The girls of the Southern Division had a little more success against the Northern Division.
"On the boys side, there are a few teams that it would be surprising to see in the third-place game," Kenai girls coach Jim Beeson said. "On the girls side, it wouldn't be a big reach to say that anybody could be playing in the third-place game."
The Soldotna girls went 3-1 against the Northern Division, including a 64-49 loss to Wasilla, a 46-44 defeat of Colony and a 54-53 defeat of Palmer.
Homer is the only team that didn't beat a Northern Division squad, but the Mariners are coming off victories over Skyview Friday and Kenai Saturday.
The big "X" factor in both the boys and girls tournaments will be Homer's floor. The floor is 10 feet longer than the home floors of all of the region's other teams.
"It makes a big difference for us," Homer girls coach Mark Mahan said. "We like to run. We're used to playing on this floor.
"It's always different when teams come to play in our gym. They're not used to that extra 10 feet."
The following is a closer look at today's games:
Soldotna girls vs. Kodiak
The Soldotna girls posted a 9-1 record in the region to earn the No. 1 seed out of the Southern Division. Meanwhile, Kodiak was 1-9 in the region and is the No. 4 seed from the Northern Division.
The two teams faced off way back in mid-December, with the Stars notching a 60-23 victory. It was the first game of the year for Soldotna, and the second for Kodiak.
With the height of Rachel Besse and Hillary Zobeck in the frontcourt, the Stars pose matchup problems for many teams, and Kodiak is no exception. Besse had 18 points in that first game, while Zobeck pumped in 12.
Soldotna girls coach Mark Tuter also said his guards caused a lot of turnovers in that game.
"Honestly and truly, most of the games are about us," Tuter said. "There are years where you're always worried about how you'll match up with other teams.
"This year, we have a team that's tough to match up with. We just have to take advantage of that."
Homer girls vs. Palmer
The Palmer girls finished 6-4 in the region to earn the No. 2 seed from the Northern Division. The Mariners were 2-8 in the region, and are the No. 3 seed from the Southern Division.
Homer leaped past Kenai for the No. 3 seed last weekend. The Mariners beat Skyview on Friday and the Kardinals Saturday to avoid playing Wasilla. Homer has won four of its last six games.
Palmer defeated Homer 46-38 on Homer's floor in late January. The Mariners had a 22-18 lead at halftime in the game.
"We played Palmer twice in summer camp, and beat them both times, so we are confident we can play with Palmer," Homer girls coach Mark Mahan said.
Mahan said neither team has a lot of height, so he's expecting a fast-paced contest.
Wasilla girls vs. Kenai
The Kardinals finished 2-8 in the region, earning them the No. 4 seed from the Southern Division and a date with powerful Wasilla.
Wasilla notched a 71-46 victory when the teams met at Kenai in early March. In that game, the potent backcourt combination of Trista White (26 points) and Chandice Cronk (12 points) were too much for Kenai. The Warriors also got a steady game down low from Marsha Schirack, who had 15 points.
The Kardinals shot well from the field in the game, but turned the ball over frequently, including 10 times in the first quarter.
Kenai was without starting point guard Breezy Saltzgiver in that game, but she should play today. Kenai also lost starters Dallas Baldwin and Erica Smith to fouls in the third quarter.
"We have to keep the pace in our favor, and a fast pace is definitely not in our favor," Beeson said. "We match up with them athletically, we just don't shoot as well as they do."
Colony girls vs. Skyview
The Knights finished 6-4 in region play to earn the No. 3 seed in the Northern Division. Skyview, meanwhile, was 4-6 in the region, earning the Southern Division's No. 2 seed.
The Knights routed the Panthers in late January, picking up a 59-35 victory on Skyview's floor. Colony's Kristina Klapperich nearly outscored the Panthers in the contest, rolling up 33 points.
That game was not nearly as lopsided as the final score indicates, though. The Panthers actually had a 21-20 lead at halftime.
"We showed we can play with them for 16 minutes, now we just need to play 32 minutes of basketball," Skyview girls coach Wade Marcuson said. "We definitely have a hard time matching up against a lot of their size.
"They can put three 6-foot girls on the floor at once and that poses a bit of a problem."
Kenai boys vs. Palmer
The Kardinals, who made it to the state tournament last year, finished 5-5 in the region to earn the No. 1 seed out of the Southern Division. Palmer, meanwhile, also posted a 5-5 mark in the region, but got the No. 4 seed out of the Northern Division.
The Kardinals and Moose faced off in mid-February in Palmer, with Kenai posting a 60-50 victory.
Kenai had a big fourth quarter in the game, outscoring Palmer 26-13. Steve Steiner, who has been on fire from the field of late, led Kenai against Palmer with 24 points.
"They keyed really hard on stopping (Ian) Foley, because in the past Foley has really hurt Palmer," Kenai coach Rich Bartolowits said. "That freed Steve up to operate."
While Foley and Steiner will have to do damage on the outside, Kenai's frontcourt, led by Caleb Schooley, will have to contain Palmer underneath.
The Moose also get solid production in the backcourt from Stanley Ratcliff, who had 15 points against Kenai last time.
"They've got some good athletes -- some big kids," Bartolowits said. "They're pretty strong and hard to rebound against."
Skyview boys vs. Colony
The Knights posted a 7-3 region record to earn the No. 2 seed in the Northern Division, while Skyview finished 3-7 in the region to earn the No. 3 seed in the Southern Division.
In late January, the Knights caught the Panthers' perimeter players off-guard and drained 12 3-pointers in a 75-41 victory at Skyview. Clay Hotchkiss burned Skyview for 18 points in the game, including five 3-pointers.
"We have to play better defense on the perimeter," Skyview coach Dave Blossom said. "We didn't expect their big guys to shoot from the outside. They had their post players shooting 3-pointers.
"We have to adjust to that and play tough inside."
Colony is known as a big and physical team, so matching up on the inside will not be easy, either.
Adam Cooper had a big scoring night in Skyview's last game, but Blossom said Matt Travers, Ryan Geller, Kaleb Shields, Chris Cushway, Adam Kosydar and Matt Matarrese will all have to join in on the effort to keep up with the Knights.
Blossom also said Matarrese's perimeter defense will be important in the game.
Wasilla boys vs. Soldotna
While the Warriors, for the most part, steamrolled region opposition all year, the Stars finished 1-9 in the region and earned the No. 4 seed in the Southern Division.
The Warriors are tough not only because they are talented. Wasilla also has shown it is committed to defense and passing, which is the reason the Warriors are undefeated in the state of Alaska.
"We're going to see them one way or the other," Soldotna boys coach Bill Withrow said. "We might as well get it over with.
"The other side of the bracket is no easy slouch, either."
The two teams faced off in early March in Soldotna, with Wasilla posting a 75-16 victory. The Stars scored just five points in the final three quarters of play.
Withrow said the Stars will have to control the tempo, and keep cutting down on turnovers, in order to have tournament success.
"We only had 10 turnovers in our last game against Skyview," Withrow said. "That's something we have to do throughout the tournament to have a chance.
"Our goal is to be there day three as a player and not as a spectator."
The Stars will be without starting senior point guard Tommy Turnbull, who broke his hand a couple of weeks ago.
Kodiak boys vs. Homer
The Mariners went 4-6 in the region to earn the No. 2 seed from the Southern Division. Meanwhile, Kodiak was 5-5 in the region and ended up with the No. 3 seed in the Northern Division.
A few weeks ago, the two teams split a pair of games at Homer. The Bears took the game that counted as a region contest.
"We had good leads early in both games," Homer coach Billy Day said. "We weren't able to hold onto the first one."
The Bears get star player Chad Mortenson back from injury for the Homer game.
The Mariners have been playing good ball of late, winning eight of their last 11 games. Homer has 10 seniors on its roster, so it is a team that knows there's no tomorrow.
"They're as motivated as you could possibly want out of a group of kids," Day said. "They're a really tight-knit group. They're good friends. Very little negative goes on between them."
Day said the team's success hinges on balanced scoring and solid team defense.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.