March doesn't get any madder than it does in Kodiak.
When the Region III/4A basketball tournament returns to the island known as "The Rock" for the first time since 1993 today, Friday and Saturday, players should get an experience they'll never forget.
People can talk about how hoops crazy Alaska is all they want, but it's not until basketball gets off the road system that the true fanaticism ensues.
"The down side with Kodiak is everybody has to pay to fly in," said Kenai girls coach Jim Beeson, who was an assistant coach with the Kardinals in 1993. "The great part is the atmosphere there is phenomenal.
"It's as good of an atmosphere, if not a better atmosphere, than state. Basketball in Kodiak is a first-class operation all the way. It's great the way the community gets involved."
Soldotna girls coach Mark Tuter also has fond memories of Kodiak. Tuter wasn't head coach back in 1993, but his daughter Molly did lead the Stars to the region title back then.
"It's a special region tournament when you go to Kodiak," Tuter said. "They always get the nice crowds. It's a real memory maker."
Without further ado, let's get to the first-round matchups.
n Kodiak boys vs. Skyview -- Talk about tough. The Panthers must face the top-ranked and undefeated Bears in Thursday's featured game.
"We have nothing to lose," Skyview coach Dave Blossom said of his team, the No. 4 seed from the Southern Division. "They're expected to win. We're expected to lose.
"The worst we can do is what's expected of us -- lose. The pressure's on them."
The Panthers fell to the Bears by scores of 59-28 and 53-36 in Kodiak in late January.
"The second night, we ended up losing by 17, but we were down by nine and 11 a good portion of the game," Blossom said. "They hit some foul shots at the end and increased the lead.
"We played them about as close as anybody's played them all year."
Blossom said the Panthers will need a huge game from 6-foot-2 center Josh Rowell to topple Kodiak and center Nick Billings, who stands 6-foot-10.
The other key figure will be senior point guard Nolan Rose, who needs to have a good shooting night for the Panthers.
Due to some injuries, Skyview will take four freshmen to Kodiak. None of the injuries are to starters, but they will hurt Skyview's depth.
n Palmer boys vs. Kenai -- The Moose ran the Kardinals into the ground 91-61 in a game in early March, so Kenai coach Rich Bartolowits knows what his team won't be doing today.
"We tried to play a running game and that was a mistake," Bartolowits said. "We were able to get some things to work against them and we'll try to focus on that."
One thing that is working for the Kardinals is they pulled off several big victories to avoid having to play Kodiak in the first round. The night after getting thumped by Palmer, Kenai upset Colony.
Then, last Friday, Kenai knocked off Soldotna, the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division.
However, Palmer has been hot of late as well. The Moose have won eight straight, including three in overtime.
Bartolowits said everybody is healthy going into the tournament. He said, as usual, the team will follow the lead of 6-foot-1 junior Marcus Webster.
n Colony boys vs. Soldotna -- The Stars picked up a 53-41 victory over the Knights on the road in early March.
However, Soldotna will be missing two of the players who keyed that victory. Aaron Hughes, a senior who had 20 points in the win, will miss the region tournament with a bad tooth. Senior Pat Hardina also will miss the tournament with a bad shoulder.
In addition, Colony will have leading scorer Cole Magner, who was suspended for the Soldotna game.
"I'll just coach what I have," said Soldotna coach Ron Becker. "I do believe the kids have performed above and beyond the call of duty all year. They're staying focused and working really hard."
Becker has a senior-dominated and deep team, so a lot of players could step in and pick up the slack for those that are injured. Not counting Hughes and Hardina, there are eight seniors on the roster.
n Wasilla boys vs. Homer -- The Warriors defeated the Mariners 63-48 in a game in late February.
Wasilla is coming off the first win in the program's history over Colony, while Homer is coming off a victory over Kenai.
In order for a better result this time, Homer, which went to state last year, will have to stop 6-foot-10 sophomore Ray Schafer. Schafer pumped in 23 points in the team's last meeting.
n Kodiak girls vs. Kenai -- As a reward for getting the top spot in the region's Southern Division, the Kardinals are rewarded with getting to play the Bears on their home floor in prime time.
Kenai has defeated Kodiak twice this season, but neither game was in Kodiak.
"The game's at 7:30 (p.m.), so the gym will be packed and not too many people will be rooting for Kenai," Beeson said. "That's what it's all about. We'll just have to deal with it."
Beeson is hoping his team can take advantage of its quickness and keep the Bears out of an organized half-court offense.
With Karli Knudsen, Jessi Reilly and Jamie Montgomery, the Kardinals should be able to apply a ton of pressure.
Another thing Beeson likes about the matchup is that Kodiak doesn't have a really big post player. This means Kenai leading scorer Erica Shinn should have a little more room to roam in the post.
Beeson said the team is healthy going into the tournament.
n Colony girls vs. Skyview -- The Panthers lost to the Knights by seven points earlier in the season at Skyview.
Rather than discourage the Panthers, the loss gave them confidence.
"If we can just value the basketball a little more and cut down on our own miscues, I think we have a real shot at pulling off a big win," Skyview coach Joe Trujillo said. "We match up very well with Colony."
Trujillo said the team will be keyed by defense, and he said key players on defense are senior Samantha Carlon and senior Sheena Demaris. Offensively, Skyview will look for points from senior Amanda Bauer, sophomore Jenny Carpenter and sophomore Christina Colvin.
Skyview also is counting on sparks from seniors Courtney and Katie Kier. The Panthers are healthy going into the tournament.
n Palmer girls vs. Soldotna -- The Moose defeated the Stars by 13 points in early March.
"We played real well with them for three quarters," Tuter said. "They had a little spurt and that was the ballgame. They're a good team."
Tuter said a key to defeating Palmer will be handling its pressure defense, particularly the quickness of senior Tami Callison.
Stars charged with guarding the ball will be sophomores Jennifer Senette and Erin Wolfe.
Soldotna will then look for points on the inside from senior Gretta Besse and sophomore Rachel Besse.
Sophomore Hillary Zobeck also could provide height on the inside, but she was sick last week and Tuter did not know if she would be ready for the tournament.
n Wasilla girls vs. Homer -- The Warriors took a 17-4 lead in the first quarter in early February and cruised to a 59-31 victory over Homer.
The Warriors showed just how balanced they could be in the game, as Tonya James, Kelly Tompkins, Christie Hayes and Brittney Kroon each had 10 points.
The Mariners will need a big game from Sara Brooks to upset the Warriors. Brooks led Homer with 10 points in the last meeting between the two teams.
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