Ninilchik's Jennifer Erickson goes up for a shot during a game earlier this season.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Nikiski girls coach Ward Romans assisted Ninilchik in January by giving them a taste of 3A basketball in the Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament.
Ninilchik coach Dan Leman just repaid the favor.
“We have three girls (sick), two that are on meds for colds and not enough healthy bodies,” Leman said Thursday night after canceling a scrimmage with the Bulldogs earlier that day. “I didn’t want to go up there and make them sick, too. It’s best that everybody heal up.”
Romans probably appreciated the gesture.
Chances are the Wolverines (20-4) are prepared enough for the 2A state tournament, which begins at 8 a.m. Tuesday when they take on Selawik at Service High School.
After capturing the conference championship a week ago, Leman and his girls deserve plenty of credit for surviving one of their toughest schedules in recent memory, including trips to the Nikiski and ACS tournaments and a clash with Point Hope.
But Romans and other local coaches contributed as well.
“We get a lot of support from the area schools, the big schools. They don’t have to do this. They work with us,” Leman explained. “It really is a big help for us to be able to go to bigger schools and work with them. In the long run, it helps them, too. They see different things.
“But the big thing for us, the real good plus, is we get to go work out on a big floor, in a regular size gym against quality kids,” he added. “Not all small schools can do that. Definitely throw that into the mix as to why we’re successful.”
Having not lost since setbacks to Nikiski and Skyview more than two months ago, the second-ranked Wolverines seem poised at making a run toward their seventh state title in the last eight years.
And at this level, having experience can do wonders.
“The biggest way that helps is obviously to win state you’ve gone through some battles, played some big games. In our case, I’ve got some seniors that have been in big-game situations and they’ve got some experience,” Leman said. “On the flip side of that, I’ve got freshmen that have grown up and seen these kids play and want to be a part of that and know they have to work and know what it takes to get to that point. We’ve got a nice mix of kids with experience and kids who want to experience that.”
Leading the group of returners are seniors Krista Leman and Kjersten Skjold, with senior Kayleigh Rice getting her first taste of the big stage.
“I think right now it’s a real mix of excitement, anticipation, confidence,” he said. “They’re really chomping at the bit, ready to get after it.”
However, there’s one difference this season.
Bristol Bay, Ninilchik’s opponent in the last three championship contests, didn’t qualify.
Leman doesn’t expect that to make their road any easier, though.
“Bristol Bay and us matching up the last three years says lot more about how tough our region is. It says a lot for just how good you’ve got to be to get through our region and get to state,” he said. “But once you get there, there’s eight teams that deserve to be there, and there’s not one team you can look past.”
Especially the Wolverines’ potential second-round foe in Yakutat (20-2).
“We had couple of games with them last year that were basically down to the last possession and I wouldn’t expect that to change,” Leman said. “They’re a very good basketball team.”
For the time being, though, Ninilchik is concentrating on Selawik (16-8).
But don’t think for a second they haven’t thought about capturing another crown.
“We expect to win because we practice to win. It’s basically that simple,” he said. “We don’t expect to win because we’ve done it eight times before. We expect to win because we go out there every practice and expect to win.
“We’re not playing for fourth place. We’re playing for first,” Leman added. “I think this team is capable of going up to the state tournament and winning.”
2A Girls State Basketball Tournament
Tuesday At Service High School
Game 1 -- Ninilchik vs. Selawick, 8 a.m.
Game 2 -- Yakutat vs. Tri-Valley, 9:40 a.m.
Game 3 -- Galena vs. Kake, 3:30 p.m.
Game 4 -- Point Hope vs. Cook Inlet, 5:10 p.m.
Wednesday At Sullivan Arena
Game 5 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 8 a.m.
Game 6 Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 9:40 a.m.
Game 7 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 3:30 p.m.
Game 8 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 5:10 p.m.
Thursday At Sullivan Arena
Game 9 (fourth place) -- Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 8 a.m.
Game 10 (third place) -- Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 11:10 a.m.
Game 11 (championship) -- Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 7 p.m.
2A Boys State Basketball Tournament
Tuesday’s games At Service High School
Game 1 -- Bristol Bay vs. Unalakleet, 10:20 a.m.
Game 2 -- Kake vs. Tok, 1 p.m.
Game 3 -- Galena vs. Yakutat, 6:50 p.m.
Game 4 -- Noorvik vs. Cook Inlet, 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday’s games At Sullivan Arena
Game 5 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 11:20 a.m.
Game 6 Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 7 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6:50 p.m.
Game 8 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Thursday’s games At Sullivan Arena
Game 9 (fourth place) -- Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 9:35 a.m.
Game 10 (third place) -- Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 12:45 p.m.
Game 11 (championship) -- Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 8:45 p.m.
Class 4A boys state basketball tournament
Thursday’s games at Service High School
Game 1 -- Juneau (2) vs. Colony (7), 11:20 a.m.
Game 2 -- East (3) vs. Lathrop (6), 1 p.m.
Game 3 -- Dimond (4) vs. Service (5), 8:30 p.m.
Game 4 -- Wasilla (1) vs. Palmer (8), 6:50 p.m.
Friday’s games at Sullivan Arena
Game 5 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6:50 p.m.
Game 6 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 8:30 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, 2 p.m. at UAA
Third place -- Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 10:40 a.m. at Sullivan Arena
Championship -- Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 8 p.m. at Sullivan Arena
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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