When the Soldotna High School boys basketball team takes the floor tonight against East High School in the Alaska School Activities Association 4A State Championships at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, the Stars will be relying on what has become their bread and butter this season -- solid man-to-man defense.
"That's the thing that makes this team -- we play really good defense," said Soldotna's Pat Rose. "If we're not having a good shooting night, our defense keeps us in the game.
"I feel like we're more comfortable in a man-to-man than in a zone. I know who I have, I know my defensive responsibilities. The thing about our defense is that if I make a mistake, I know there's someone there to help."
That defense will be tested against the defending state champion Thunderbirds, but the Stars are coming off a series of defensive gems from the Region III tournament.
"These kids are playing some of the best defensive basketball of their lives," said Soldotna coach Ron Becker, citing the 21, 24 and 26 points allowed by the Stars against Kenai, Wasilla and Homer, respectively, at the region tournament.
"When you can do that, you've done something very special," Becker said.
When the Stars have the basketball, they expect to see East playing a two-three zone defense, something they've had the opportunity to break down on video tape.
"We're going to have to get our outside shot going, too," Shaun Williams said. "Our defense will keep us in the game. Then, if we start sinking some 3s, we're a hard team to beat."
This year's team is just the seventh Soldotna squad to qualify for the state tournament in the school's history. The last team to go was the 1996-97 edition of the Stars, which finished fourth at the tournament, the best finish in the program's history.
This year's seniors were in eighth grade the last time the Stars went to the state tournament, and they were just beginning to sow the seeds that have blossomed into this season's success.
"This has been a dream for a bunch of our guys since we were freshmen," Nick Christensen said. "We're going to the show. Most of us go watch the (Great Alaska) Shootout (at Sullivan Arena). Now we get a chance to go play where those guys play. It's special."
Most of the current Soldotna seniors came together on the basketball court as seventh and eighth graders at Soldotna Middle School. A few have been playing together even longer than that, hooping it up in second, third or fourth grade in the Boys and Girls Club basketball programs.
"We always thought that (going to state) would be a really neat thing," said Bobby Zeyer. "It's great that we're actually able to do that this year. We finished the season strong. Now, we just have to work even harder."
The Stars say they are ready for the challenge East presents.
"We like being the underdog," Sean Kelley said. "Nobody gives us much of a chance. We want to show we can play with East. We know what they run, but we're focused on our own stuff.
"We just need to play with confidence. Everybody fears East because they've got this mystique of winning. A lot of teams lose the game before they even play because of that fear."
Win or lose, just making it to state out of a very competitive Region III has been quite an accomplishment for the Stars.
"There's a lot of positive things to say about these kids," Becker said. "They worked really hard. They've been good kids, made good decisions and been good students in the classroom. They've played to their potential -- maybe even beyond it."
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.