Nikiski's Becca Carlson attemps to drive the lane against Anchorage Christian Schools earlier this season.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
When a program has eight state championships in the past 15 years, history is almost always on its side.
When the Nikiski girls make their 17th straight appearance at the Class 3A state tournament starting with an 11:20 a.m. tilt against Barrow (21-5) on Thursday at the University of Alaska Anchorage Sports Center, history will once again be on the side of the Bulldogs (19-4 overall) despite a second-place finish in the Southcentral Conference tournament one week ago.
In 2002, Nikiski lost the conference tournament on its home floor to Seward, just as the Bulldogs dropped a 53-38 decision in the finals to Anchorage Christian Schools last week. Nikiski was able to shake off that 2002 conference finals loss and register a 60-33 victory over Monroe Catholic in the Class 3A title game.
Nikiski senior Hannah Thompson said coach Ward Romans told the Bulldogs about the 2002 squad immediately after the loss to ACS.
“We know it can be done,” Nikiski senior Becca Carlson said of taking state without taking the conference. “Everyone thinks you are not as good as you were supposed to be. We have to come out with everything we have and show everyone how it is.”
Last season, Nikiski defeated Barrow 51-41 in the state championship game. Thompson played a huge role in the game on both ends of the court, scoring 16 points and holding Piggy Pili, Barrow’s main offensive threat, to just nine points on 3-of-19 shooting. Pili will be back with Barrow on Thursday looking for revenge.
“Piggy is a great player and a great shooter,” Nikiski assistant coach Sharon Thompson said. “We’ve got to be ready for her.”
Thompson’s daughter, Hannah, agrees with her mother’s assessment of Pili.
“I have to be ready for her again,” Thompson said. “It’ll be a challenge.”
In the Southcentral Conference tournament, the Bulldogs had problems with falling behind in the first half. Nikiski trailed Houston in the semifinals by 18 points with 6 minutes left in the third quarter, but came back to win 48-43 and secure a state berth. In the championship, Nikiski trailed ACS by 15 at the half and could not mount another comeback.
Kyla Jorgensen, who is Nikiski’s only returning starter besides Thompson, said the comeback against Houston was a character check.
“We did not want our season to end without going to state,” Jorgensen, a senior, said. “That inspired everybody and we all knew we had to step it up. We were all able to do that.”
Against ACS, the Bulldogs learned that gallant comebacks are not going to work every time.
“It’s a loss,” Sharon Thompson said. “They shot lights out. It’s something we can work through. We can clean up our mistakes and come back from this stronger.”
Earlier this season, the Bulldogs showed the ability to learn from a loss to ACS. In late January, Nikiski lost to the Lions 49-36 on the road before beating them less than a week later 51-48 at Nikiski.
The Bulldogs are able to rebound from tough losses quickly because players have confidence in a tried-and-true formula that has brought state championships time after time.
“I just know we need to play Nikiski basketball and we will be fine,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen said Nikiski basketball is playing good defense and using patience and execution on offense.
Sharon Thompson said the Bulldogs also should benefit because the tournament is being held the week of spring break. Sherra Pritchard, Nikiski’s fourth and final senior, missed a good deal of the past week of practice due to illness. Without school, Nikiski should be able to get extra rest and practice a couple of days at 11 a.m. to get used to playing early in the morning.
“We need to execute better,” Sharon Thompson said. “When we execute and play Nikiski basketball on offense and defense, nobody can stay with us.”
Class 3A state girls basketball tournament
Thursday’s games at UAA Sports Center
Game 1 -- Barrow vs. Nikiski, 11:20 a.m.
Game 2 -- Monroe vs. Mt. Edgecumbe, 1 p.m.
Game 3 -- Petersburg vs. Nome, 6:50 p.m.
Game 4 -- Anchorage Christian vs. Cordova, 8:30 p.m.
Friday’s games at Sullivan Arena
Game 5 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 3:30 p.m.
Game 6 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 5:10 p.m.
Game 7 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 11:20 a.m.
Game 8 -- Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 1 p.m.
Fourth place -- Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 9 a.m. at UAA
Third place -- Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 9 a.m. at Sullivan Arena
Championship -- Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 1:30 p.m. at Sullivan Arena
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