The District 3/3A high school basketball tournament tips off today at Seward High School in a gym termed intimate by some and intimidating by others.
"I love going down and playing in Seward's gym -- it's old school," said Nikiski girls coach Ward Romans. "It's loud, it's always packed, it's a great atmosphere."
Seven schools will vie for two spots in the 3A state tournament next week. The Grace Christian and Heritage Christian girls will start things off at 11 a.m., followed by the Anchorage Christian and Nikiski boys at 12:45 p.m.
The Nikiski girls earned the top seed with an 11-1 record in district play during the regular season, giving them a bye into the second round. The Bulldogs' first game will be Friday at 6:30 p.m.
While the Bulldogs boast the district's top record, Romans called it a very balanced field and noted that many teams spilt with each other in regular season play.
Nikiski is slated to face the winner of the Grace-Heritage game, leaving the possibility that the Bulldogs will have to face the only team they lost to in the regular season in Grace.
Should the Bulldogs advance to the final, there's a good chance they'll see the host Seahawks there.
Seward, the No. 3 seed, always plays well in its own gym and finished its district schedule with an 8-4 mark.
Nikiski finished strong, though, stealing a game from the Seahawks in Seward and then beating Kenai on the road in their season finale.
"We had two good games where we had to play well down the stretch to win," Romans said. "I'm excited about this team."
Rather than ponder possibilities, Romans has his team preparing for whatever challenge they may face.
"We need to worry more about what we need to do to be successful," he said.
Success for this year's Bulldogs will be measured by their ability to advance to the district final and secure a trip to the state tournament.
"Whoever comes out of our region will be well-prepared for state," Romans said. "The semis will be very important. If you can win in the semis, you punch your ticket to state."
The Nikiski boys will have a tougher row to hoe to advance in the tournament. The No. 5 Bulldogs face No. 4 Anchorage Christian Schools to open the competition, a team they lost to twice during the regular season. Should they pass that test, they would face top-seeded Grace Christian in the semifinals.
"It doesn't get any easier," said Nikiski boys coach Reid Kornstad.
Kornstad thought that the Bulldogs played well against ACS in both outings. Nikiski went 4-8 in district play and lost to Kenai in a close game to cap the season.
"We had a good segment -- we put together half a game," Kornstad said. "There were good things that let me know it's there for the (district) tournament."
The Seward boys finished with an 8-4 district record and a three-way tie for second place with Houston and ACS. The Seahawks got a favorable draw for the tournament in the deciding coin flip and will face No. 6 Heritage (2-10) in the opening round.
The Seahawks downed the Eagles handily in both meetings this season, and finished off their schedule by putting a scare into Kodiak last weekend.
"I hope we're not overconfident -- that's something you've always got to guard against in the opening round," said Seward coach Chuck Boerger. "We're happy with the way the seeding came out."
Seward is on the opposite Grace in the bracket, meaning the Seahawks won't have to face the Grizzlies until the finals, should they make it that far. Boerger said Seward hasn't knocked off Grace in four seasons, the last time the Seahawks went to state.
"We haven't been to state in four years," Boerger said. "We've got a lot of seniors that want it bad."
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