It sounds impossible at first, but it's true.
No member of the 2008-09 Nikiski girls basketball team has played in a first-round victory at the Class 3A state tournament.
Lacey Carlson, however, remembers watching from the stands as her sister, Becca, helped lead the Bulldogs to their last state championship in 2006, one of eight crowns in a span of 15 years.
"I always looked up to them," Carlson said of that team, "and they took state and I just saw how happy they were and I just wanted that really bad."
If the Bulldogs play like they did against Galena on Thursday, that dream might not be too far away.
Carlson had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Eliza Chadwick netted 17 points and Nikiski jumped out to an early lead and never let it slip to single digits in the second half in cruising to a 53-37 win over the Hawks at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
"We shot 47 percent (17-of-36) from the field. We've been waiting for this game," said Bulldogs coach Ward Romans. "If I was to script it, I don't know if I could have scripted it much better."
It definitely would be hard.
Traditionally a strong second-half team that finished the regular season at 18-4, Nikiski on Thursday jumped out to a 16-6 first-quarter lead behind eight points from Carlson in the opening 4 minutes, 34 seconds, of play.
"It was really great to come out and let them know that it wasn't going to be an easy game and not leave it 'til the fourth quarter," Chadwick said. "I think we were really fired up not getting to come to state last year. It was really a bummer and it fueled us a lot, I think.
"I think today a lot of pieces came together," she added. "We've worked hard and it's showing now."
Especially for Carlson, who pulled down seven rebounds in the first half alone en route to one her strongest performances of the season.
"I was just really excited for coming to state and I knew that these were my last few games to play and so I was just going to let it rip," she said.
Galena coach Beth Buchanan didn't need to be told what grade Carlson was in, either. It was obvious.
"She came out confident, she must be a senior," she said matter-of-factly. "She came out, she was ready to go and she lit her team up and she never looked back. It was very impressive."
So were the rest of the Bulldogs, too, including senior Rachel Romans, who netted nine points to go along with five boards, and junior Abby Chadwick, who also collected nine points, three rebounds and two steals.
"Nikiski's a pretty dang, solid team. They've got five girls out there and another three right behind those five that are ready to go and play. A very impressive team," Buchanan said. "I think they've got another shot at being champs again. They'll give ACS a run for their money for sure."
First, though, Nikiski today has to get past Mt. Edgecumbe, 48-37 winners over Dillingham. The Bulldogs did beat the Braves by nine in December, but Mt. Edgecumbe hasn't lost since.
"It's a long time ago," Chadwick said of that win. "We know they're going to be a totally different team, but we're excited."
As well they should be following a performance like Thursday's.
Not only did Nikiski shoot better, as Galena was just 16-of-49 (32.7 percent) from the field, but the Bulldogs won the rebounding battle 34-22 and went 15-of-21 from the foul line, while the Hawks were just 3-of-4.
But Galena hung tough through the second, making it a two-possession game after four of Adrienne Beans' 15 points and a free throw from Ariel Turner. Not about to enter halftime on that note, however, Nikiski surged into the break on a 6-3 run when Romans ran off four in a row and Eliza Chadwick added a layup high off the glass with 37 ticks left in sending the Bulldogs into the intermission leading 25-18.
From there, the lead never dipped below 10, the last time with 5:23 to play in the third when Jenna Buchanan scored two of her 10 points in the low post in making it 30-20.
A 3-point play from Carlson and foul-line jumper by Abby Chadwick extended it to 16, but Buchanan and Kaitlin Ivanoff each scored in the final 2:26 in keeping the Hawks within reach at 38-26 after the third.
"Nikiski's defense is just a little bit more than what we're used to. And so our shots were a little flat to begin with and that didn't help us at all," coach Buchanan said. "We sort of had to go to a different game plan and once we figured out that the beast (Jenna Buchanan) here was going to play hard inside, it was kind of too late to come back."
Nikiski, which finished fourth in 2007, ensured that in the fourth, ballooning the lead to 17 on two points each from the Chadwick sisters and one from Carlson. Eliza Chadwick sealed the convincing victory with eight more points in the closing 3:51 in sending the Bulldogs into the semifinals for the first time since they won it all in 2006.
"They played fearless," Romans said, justifying a handful of his team's 18 turnovers. "It was so exciting to coach them today. I was intense and all, but it was a treat to coach them because they made so many fearless plays under control offensively and defensively."
He later said it was their best game of the season. At least so far.
"Our goal now is to play the best game tomorrow."
Bulldogs 53, Hawks 37
Nikiski 16 9 13 15 --53
Galena 6 12 8 11 --37
NIKISKI (53) -- Romans 2 4-5 9, A. Chadwick 4 0-1 9, Johnson 0 1-2 1, Carlson 5 4-7 15, E. Chadwick 5 6-6 17, Anderson 0 0-0 0, Parrish 0 0-0 0, Griffel 0 0-0 0, Peek 1 0-0 2. Totals -- 17 15-21 53.
GALENA (37) -- Fennimore 2 0-0 4, Beans 6 2-2 15, Thurmond 0 0-0 0, Gregg 0 0-0 0, Buchanan 5 0-0 10, M. Sheldon 0 0-0 0, Ivanoff 3 0-0 7, Pitka 0 0-0 0, M. Sheldon 0 0-0 0, Turner 0 1-2 1. Totals -- 16 3-4 37.
3-point goals -- Nikiski 4 (Romans, A. Chadwick, Carlson, E. Chadwick), Galena 2 (Beans, Ivanoff). Team fouls -- Nikiski 11, Galena 13. Fouled out -- Romans, Beans.
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