Kenai's Cory Toombs drives the ball in a game against Skyview earlier this year. Toombs is a Class 4A boys first team all-state selection.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
There's a 6-foot-9 center already committed to playing Division I basketball. Another spectacular point guard probably fielding D-I offers. And a pair of seniors fresh off their school's first Class 4A state championship.
Then there's Cory Toombs.
A slender sharpshooter in his final year at Kenai Central, Toombs helped lead the sixth-seeded Kardinals to a stunning first-round upset of third-seeded Dimond and a fifth-place overall finish at last weekend's state championships.
In the process, he clearly opened some eyes, proving he belonged amongst the state's elite.
And now he's officially there.
Ninilchik's Heidi Skjold chases the ball in a game earlier this year against Cook Inlet Academy.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Toombs joins Ketchikan's Damon Bell-Holter, South's Anthony Cousins and Aaron Stevens and Class 4A Player of the Year Kevin Winford of Bartlett as an Anchorage Daily News/Alaska Media first team all-state basketball selection.
"That's really good company. It's impressive," said Kenai Central coach Jim Beeson. "Cory certainly was the leader of what we were doing up there. It was that way all year long. He always played the other team's best offensive player."
Cook Inlet Academy's Brooke Forsi controls the ball during a game earlier this month. She is one of two central peninsula girls named to the Class 2A first team all state.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Beeson said he's sure a Kenai boy has not received a first-team nod since 1988. The coach said he is less sure of the period between 1981 and 1988. The last first-team selection for a Kardinal boy that Beeson knows of came in 1981, when Kenai finished second at state and Shorty Johnson and Bud Tressler received first-team honors.
Also earning first-team honors from Class 2A squads on the peninsula were Cook Inlet Academy's Brooke Forsi and Ninilchik's Heidi Skjold.
But in regards to Toombs, who received the fourth-most votes, the four other first-team members are about as high profile as its gets around here.
Bell-Holter will be playing ball at Missouri State University next season, Winford showcased his college-ready array of dazzling dunks and outside shots in leading Bartlett past Kenai and into the state title game and Cousins and Stevens guided the Wolverines past the Golden Bears for South's first state crown in its first state trip in the school's four years of existence.
All Toombs did was average 14.2 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds a game during the regular season and 17 points and seven boards in the state tournament in helping the Kardinals (19-9) win a first-round game at state for the first time since 1998, when they also finished fifth.
"That's kind of surprising," Beeson said of Toombs' first-team nod. "But the fact that we made the state tournament and we played so well, people saw the success we had as a team. In the past when you don't make the state tournament, people in Anchorage don't get to see you so much and it's hard to make an impression on everybody.
"It was just a chance for other people to get a chance to see him and see what he can do," he added, "to be on center stage and prove that he does fit with those other kids."
It didn't take long for him to strut his stuff.
Following a crucial 18-point performance in Kenai's 74-73 overtime thriller against the Lynx, Toombs recorded 12 points and eight rebounds in a 54-46 semifinal setback to Bartlett. The 6-foot-0 senior then paced the Kardinals with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting in a heartbreaking 42-38 loss to Colony in the third-place game.
"It's a great honor for him but also for the team. Everyone played a role in it," Beeson said. "If we hadn't gotten to the state tournament, I guarantee he wouldn't have been on the state (first) team."
Helping Toombs achieve such adoration was classmate Nate Byrd, who led the Kardinals during the regular season with 16.8 points a game and added 3.3 rebounds in being named to the all-state honorable mention team.
"As a result of all the hard work as a group we did, they both got recognition for what they did all year," Beeson said. "It's certainly not a one-year deal. It's something they've been working on the last four years of high school.
"To be honest, one of the goals we had when we sat down before the season began was to achieve this level of play. ... And they both did that."
It was Byrd's 3-pointer from the corner with 38 seconds remaining against Dimond that trimmed the Kardinals' deficit to three, thus providing Kenai a glimmer of hope. Following a steal and another trey by senior Nate Saltzgiver that sent the game to the extra session, Kenai outscored the Lynx by one in advancing to the semifinals.
"We don't make it there," Beeson said of playing without the all-state duo. "We certainly don't.
"It's great to see kids like those kids have success like that because they are good kids. They are the kind of kids you like to see have success," he added. "It's a great honor for our kids as well for our program."
Beeson also saw firsthand what Winford who is reportedly considering D-I schools Portland State and Montana State as well as the University of Alaska Anchorage is capable of. And following Kenai's loss to Bartlett at Sullivan Arena, during which Winford netted a game-high 22 points, Beeson admitted to the player of the year as he passed by outside the locker room that Kenai just couldn't stop him.
"He was the difference in the basketball game when we played them," he explained. "Every time they made a big play he was right in the middle of it and he obviously did that all year long.
"I think he's a Division I basketball player," Beeson added.
Leading the Cook Inlet Academy girls to their second consecutive fourth-place finish at state after an 18-year layoff from the big dance, Forsi averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds in three state tournament contests.
"She had a great season," said CIA coach and Brooke's father, Ted Forsi. "Being a tall, skinny kid as she is, she's tough. She's tough and she had a great year."
The senior also averaged 17.3 points in the Peninsula Conference tournament, including a dominating 23-point, 11-rebound, eight-block, six-steal performance in the second-place game against Nikolaevsk.
Joining Forsi on the first team is Skjold, a four-year starting senior who captained the Wolverines to a second-place finish at state one year after taking third.
"She was just definitely one that put in the time and extra effort," said Ninilchik coach Dan Leman. "She stood out as somebody who would come in early and stay late and definitely put the time in.
"She would work and spend time on all parts of her game," he added. "She would come in before practice started and work on ball handling one day, work on jump shots one day, work on 3-point shooting, and was always trying to improve whatever area needed to work on. In practice she applied those things she was working on."
Rounding out the Class 2A girls first team was player of the year Rose Fraker of Yakutat, Esther Esbenshade, also from Yakutat, and Point Hope's Tammy Burgess.
Only a sophomore, Cook Inlet's Amie Smithwick was named to the second team after averaging 10.7 points and five rebounds at the state tourney. She also averaged 13 points a game in helping the Eagles take second place in the conference tournament.
"That's quite an accomplishment for a sophomore," Ted Forsi said. "Quite an accomplishment for a couple girls from Cook Inlet Academy. They've been a foundation for our girls team at Cook Inlet for the last two years."
Ninilchik's Grace Ehlers and Ashley Bartolowits were selected to the honorable mention team.
A senior, Bartolowits scored a team-high 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in leading Ninilchik to an easy win over Northway in the opening round of the Class 2A state tourney.
"Athletically, she's one of our best athletes on the team," Leman said. "She's just an animal on the boards. I think she really, really liked getting in there and banging with girls that were bigger than her. ... She was always working on getting position to get a put-back.
"She's not vocal, but very dependable," he added. "I'm very pleased with her because she definitely deserved that."
Ehlers, a junior, then collected 11 points and 10 rebounds in guiding the Wolverines to a semifinal win over Point Hope and into the championship game for the 11th time in the last 13 years. Ninilchik, however, subsequently fell to Yakutat, which won its second straight state title.
"Grace was another one that took a lot of interest in making herself a better player. One of those that was always at open gym. ... She didn't mind matching up against the guys," Leman explained. "She really did just blossom into an all-around, very dependable team player."
Seldovia seniors Levi Harkness and Griffin Swick earned second-team and honorable mention honors, respectively, following the Sea Otters fifth-place finish in their first state tournament trip since 2000.
"That's awesome. I'm very happy for them," said Seldovia coach Russ Radliff. "They both had great seasons."
Harkness averaged 15.3 points a game over the final seven (four in the conference tourney and three at state), including 24 in the second-place conference tournament game against Cook Inlet and 25 in the opening-round win over previously undefeated Angoon at state.
"Levi, if he got the ball in position, he was tough. He's a tough guy to stop offensively," Radliff said. "Levi would outrun everyone in practice. ... He kind of came into his own this year. I think he worried about what kids said to him the last couple of years. ... He kind of let go and became more of a leader this year."
Spearheading the Sea Otters' offense, Swick averaged 14.4 points a game down the stretch, including 17 in a second-round loss at state to Galena.
"Griff was the one who controlled the flow of the game for us most of the time," Radliff said. "He's not a true point guard. We've struggled with point guards here the last couple of years. ... He really came into his own here at the end of the season, had patience with the ball and moved it around and really ran the show on offense."
On the 4A girls side of things, Soldotna senior Paige Blackburn was named to the honorable mention team.
Chugiak's Sarah Watzke was named Class 4A player of the year and was joined on the first team by Colony's Alex Coon, who led the Knights to a state championship over the Mustangs, Wasilla's Jenna Johnson, South's Sylvia Bullock and East's Jazzie Gaddy.
Leading Anchorage Christian Schools to a 25-1 record and a Class 3A state championship, junior Anna Simmers was rewarded with player of the year honors and was joined on the first team by Barrow's Jennifer Martelle and Princess Eduarte, Eielson's Sharee Miller and Cordova's Kelsey Hawley.
"She was on a mission this year and led her team to a state title," said Nikiski coach Ward Romans, whose team lost to the Lions twice this season. "She's surrounded by great players, but she's a unique player with her skills and ability to do almost anything on the basketball floor."
Nikiski's Tasha Thompson was the lone Bulldog named to the all-state team, garnering honorable mention honors despite Nikiski's absence at the state tournament for only the second time in the past 19 years under Romans.
"It's well deserved," Romans said. "She was a great leader for us. I'm really proud of her."
Thompson, a four-year varsity member, was the fourth leading scorer on Nikiski this season, averaging 7.2 points per game, while also chipping in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
"It's been really awesome to see," Romans said of her growth as a player. "Just maturing as a player and maturing as a leader.
"She's a solid post defender. ... Other games she was defending the shooter," he added. "She's really a versatile player for us."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
Anchorage Daily News/Alaska Media All-State basketball teams
First Team Kevin Winford, Bartlett (Player of Year); Anthony Cousins, South; Damon Bell-Holter, Ketchikan; Cory Toombs, Kenai; Aaron Stevens, South.
Second Team Eric Gross, Juneau-Douglas; Rylan Whilden, Dimond; Jaron Murphy, Colony; Ryan Hanley, Dimond; Marcus Lowe, Service.
Honorable Mention Colton Lauwers, Dimond; John Palmer, Colony; Trevor Smith, South; Grant Niver, Colony; Nate Byrd, Kenai; Mike Russell, West; T.J. Fullmer, Palmer.
Coach of the Year Don Brooks, South.
First Team Sarah Watzke, Chugiak (Player of Year); Alex Coon, Colony; Jenna Johnson, Wasilla; Sylvia Bullock, South; Jazzie Gaddy, East.
Second Team Lorrie Clifford, Chugiak; Hayley Hotchkiss, Colony; Allie Grazulis, Colony; Ashley Swetzof, Palmer; Krishna Engel, Dimond.
Honorable Mention Ariel Harrison, Lathrop; Nicole Fenumiai, Juneau-Douglas; Kara Larson, Colony; Paige Blackburn, Soldotna; Mattie Cox, Palmer; Kelsey Cottle, Wasilla.
Coach of the Year Don Witzel, Colony.
First Team Kyle Fossman, Haines (Player of Year); Leif Karlberg, Grace; Cameron Severson, Petersburg; Jesse Blandford, Nome; Steve Hanks, Heritage.
Second Team Kellan Moll, Grace; Colten Growden, Eielson; Matthew Millar, Heritage; Amedeo Cornacchione, Haines; Jarrett Miller, Eielson.
Honorable Mention Cole Daniel, Hutchison; Orion Falvey, Haines; Cody Smith, Petersburg; Jeremy Head, Nome; Chad Dyson, ACS; Caleb McGraw, Mt. Edgecumbe.
Coach of the Year Steve Fossman, Haines.
First Team Anna Simmers, ACS (Player of Year); Jennifer Martelle, Barrow; Princess Eduarte, Barrow; Sharee Miller, Eielson; Kelsey Hawley, Cordova.
Second Team Debbiey Simmers, ACS; Britney Anderson, Eielson; Chelsea Dyson, ACS; Sara Morris, Mt. Edgecumbe; Marissa Merritt, Cordova.
Honorable Mention Bailey White, ACS; Alex Wood, Eielson; Venessa Grace, Grace; Charlea Kewan-Bartleson, Mt. Edgecumbe; Tasha Thompson, Nikiski.
Coach of the Year Daniel Skipworth, ACS.
First Team Mason King, Bristol Bay (Player of Year); Amos Lane, Point Hope; Willy Zibell, Noorvik; Roberto Burgess, Galena; John Croasmun, Angoon.
Second Team Craig Aloysius, Galena; Tim Field, Noorvik; Tyrone Towarak, Unalakleet; Teddy Frankson, Point Hope; Levi Harkness, Seldovia.
Honorable Mention Ryan Rock, Point Hope; A.J. Atchak, Stebbins; Kash Ferguson, Chevak; Tyler Yoder, Galena; Anthony Norris, Selawik; Matthew Towarak, Unalakleet; Michael Jedlicka, Bristol Bay; Ben Renshaw, Tri-Valley; Nate Floyd, Galena; Randall Cheemuk, Kotlik; Griffin Swick, Seldovia; Guy Tuzroyluk, Point Hope.
First Team Rose Fraker, Yakutat (Player of Year); Brooke Forsi, Cook Inlet; Heidi Skjold, Ninilchik; Esther Esbenshade, Yakutat; Tammy Burgess, Point Hope.
Second Team Sam Lane, Galena; Amie Smithwick, Cook Inlet; Courtney Talerico, Tri-Valley; Misty Olson, Chevak; Jesse Ellis, Skagway.
Honorable Mention Grace Ehlers, Ninilchik; Sharnel Vale, Yakutat; Taneal Alsup, Kake; Chelsea Lake, Chevak; Adrienne Beans, Galena; Katherine Albert, Northway; Nicole Wooten, Kake; Mary Olson, Chevak; Gianna Eckeweiler, Unalakleet; Ashley Bartolowits, Ninilchik; Justyne Wheeler, Yakutat; Clarissa Tall, Chevak; Ashley Burgett, Galena; Kayli Hildebrand, Northway.
First Team Lawrence Jones, Buckland (Player of Year); Kenneth Vaska, Russian Mission; Wayne Holmberg, Kalskag; Matt Takak, Elim; Shawn Peter, Ft. Yukon.
Second Team Robert Reed, Kalskag; Matthew Westlakd, Kiana; Charley Dushkin, King Cove; Brent Ticket, Buckland; Travis Andrew, Napaskiak.
Honorable Mention Scott Ahgook, Nunamiut; Oscar Walker, Buckland; Jonny Samuelson, King Cove; Matthew Shy, Noatak; James Barr, Shishmaref; Swenson Tocktoo, Brevig Mission; Harris Topkok, Teller; Brian Savetilik, Shaktoolik.
2A/1A Coach of the Year Orin Weaver, Galena.
First Team Marisa Atoruk, Kiana (Player of Year); Keilyn Carlos, Togiak; Katya Wassillie, White Mountain; Beverley Thomas, Buckland; Lexy Staheli, Kiana.
Second Team Dahlia Wassillie, Togiak; Alyssa Agnassagga, Alak; Jessica Schneider, Akiachak; Victoria Sinnok, Shishmaref; Jaclynne Richards, Kiana.
Honorable Mention Serena Edwin, Huslia; Jessie Charles, Akiachak; Forest Walker, Buckland; Sonya Stanislaus, Alakanuk; Stephanie Lincoln, White Mountain; Kelly Ayapan, Kwethluk; Jessica Williams, Ambler; Shannon Wasuli, Noatak.
2A/1A Coach of the Year Tommy Wells, Kiana.
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