The last time the Nikiski boys and girls basketball teams both went to state, in 1996, both teams came home with state titles.
In order to duplicate that feat in 2002, the Bulldogs will both have to overcome balanced fields when the Class 3A state basketball tourney tips off today at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
"I really don't think there is a favorite," Nikiski boys coach Reid Kornstad said of the boys field. "The field is so well-balanced.
"If anybody, it's Barrow because they haven't lost yet."
The Bulldogs (19-7 overall) open up the tournament today with a 1:15 p.m. game against Metlakatla (12-11).
Although its record doesn't show it, Metlakatla should provide Nikiski with a stiff test. In its district tournament, Metlakatla upset Wrangell to reach state. It was only Wrangell's second loss of the year.
Metlakatla is being fueled by Chris Bryant, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard. Bryant poured in 39 points, including eight 3-pointers, when Metlakatla lost to Craig in the district final.
Metlakatla also has some decent height in 6-foot-4 Apolo Arsden.
Kornstad has a limited scouting report on Metlakatla. He knows they can be hard to defend because they just get out and play basketball more than they run any set offense.
"They're going to be tough to stop," Kornstad said. "If we don't defend them, we won't have a chance.
"If we play well on defense, I like our chances."
The Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 3 in the prep poll, are coming off a big 69-45 win over Anchorage Christian Schools in the district championship.
Senior David Holloway had his usual 23 points for the Bulldogs, but Kornstad was especially impressed with the 24 points of senior Josh Reilly.
"He's always a leader for us intensity-wise, but he just went to another level," Kornstad said of Reilly. "That resulted in a lot of key stats for us.
"He went 11-of-12 from the field."
Of course, Reilly and Holloway can't do it alone. Kornstad said Jason Gerke, Ryan Crumpacker and Jeremiah Taylor all stepped up with big defensive games against ACS.
Plus, Rustin Hitchcock did a solid job filling in as a starter after three players were kicked off the team due to disciplinary reasons in the weeks leading up to the tournament.
"The biggest pressure I feel is to make sure our seniors go out with a great experience," said Kornstad, who is making his first trip to state. "If I can do that, the winning and losing will take care of itself."
Nikiski girls coach Ward Romans, making his 12th straight trip to state, said this looks to be the most balanced state tournament he can remember.
The Bulldogs (18-6) are coming off a loss to Seward in the finals of the district tournament. Nikiski will open with Mt. Edgecumbe (19-6) today at 5:30 p.m.
The Braves are the fourth-ranked team in the state, while Nikiski is ranked second. Romans said he is only a little familiar with Mt. Edgecumbe, a Southeast school.
"(Mt. Edgecumbe) is coming off a big win to win regionals," Romans said. "We have a little scouting on them -- they were at state last year -- so it's not like we don't know anything about them."
The Bulldogs bring to state an experienced team with five seniors. Last year, Nikiski finished fourth in state.
Romans thinks the surprise loss to Seward in the district finals may have lit a fire under his squad.
"By the two practices we've had this week, I think we're more focused," Romans said Tuesday. "We have five seniors, so we're a senior-laden team.
"In hindsight, I think we're going to use this as a positive."
The main cogs in Nikiski's rotation are seniors Emilee Gillaspie, Amanda Weaver, April Lofstedt, Joy Carr and Sally Glaze and juniors Karen Rabung and Katie Floyd.
Romans said the team has played the toughest schedule this year in his time at the school, and he's hoping it pays off starting today.
"We'll see if it pays dividends, but I'm excited," Romans said.
Seward (11-14) will play Petersburg (14-9) at 9:45 a.m.
"They're playing their best basketball of the year right now," Romans said of the Seahawks. "They're stepping up in the right spots and they were playing without fear Saturday because they knew they were already in state.
"Roger Steinbrecher always seems to have his teams peaking at the end of the year."
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