Perseverance pays dividends

Seldovia girls back at state after struggling last season

Posted: Friday, March 31, 2000

Last year, as the Seldovia girls limped through a one-win season that was eventually cut short when the number of healthy players on the team dropped to four, people around town kept comforting junior Jacquelyn Brown with one thought.

Wait 'til next year.

Next year has arrived for the Sea Otters, and it was well worth the wait. Thursday, Seldovia dumped Tri-Valley 50-30 in the first round of the Class 2A state basketball tournament to run its record to 20-6 overall.

"It's a lot different," said Brown from a cell phone as the team traveled to Anchorage Wednesday. "We're actually winning games this year, as opposed to last year, when we were playing five-on-three instead of five-on-five.

"It's a lot more fun now that we have more players to play with."

Last season was actually an aberration for the basketball-mad city, which is located across from Homer on Kachemak Bay. It also shows how precarious fielding a basketball team can be for a school of less than 50 students.

The Sea Otters made runs to the state tournament in 1996-97 and 1997-98 before the bottom fell out last season.

Valisa Higman, Chandra Corwin and Misty Brown graduated from the 1997-98 team, and three sophomores from the team left for schools in other areas before their junior year.

"What really hurt was those juniors bailing like that," said Seldovia coach Sara Nichols.

Last season Nichols, who graduated from Seldovia in 1993, entered her first season as head coach of the team with only five players.

"Only three of those players were really interested in basketball," Nichols said of Michelle Gruber, Kelly Hecks and Brown.

One of the main motivations of the team became just staying afloat long enough to get Hecks, who was the team's only senior, through her last season.

However, Margaret Moonin hurt her knee in February. She soldiered on until the end of the month, but by then the injury had become too severe to continue.

"She stuck it out as long as she could," Brown said.

Nichols tried to combine the team with Nikolaevsk in order to give her team a chance to play at the District 3/2A tournament, but that never came about.

"I was down because we weren't able to go to regions," Brown said. "They said we would be able to join up with them, but a couple days later they said we couldn't go.

"I was bummed somebody wouldn't want us to have a chance to play. Maybe they were afraid we would win a few games."

However, Brown and Gruber, who would be the two girls from last year's team to play again this year, could take silent satisfaction in the fact that help was on the way.

Basketball talent is never spread too thin in a town that worships hoops.

"There's not much else to do there," Brown said. "We don't have a teen center. Pretty much all there is, is a nice gymnasium, and we definitely get our use out of it."

Added Nichols: "Just about everybody who can will play basketball. It seems like at other schools, basketball is more about participation, and not competition.

"But here, it's both."

Gruber knew first-hand the team would get a pair of stellar players in freshmen Jaime Geagel and Amelia Dillon.

"We played in junior high and had a good year," she said. "We knew we'd have talent with Jaime and Amelia coming up as freshmen.

"Those two are really, really awesome players. We've been playing pretty much our entire lives together."

Ana Chartier and Jennifer Oliveira, two of the three players which had left Seldovia after the 1997-98 season, came back to play out their senior seasons and graduate at Seldovia.

Add freshman Myriah Suydam to the mix, and the Sea Otters suddenly had a group of seven players.

It quickly became apparent to longtime observers of the Seldovia basketball scene, like Seldovia boys basketball coach John Gruber, that the Sea Otters would be a whole different animal to deal with in 1999-00.

Gruber, who coached Nichols while she was at Seldovia, coached the girls team for eight years before switching to the boys following the 1997-98 season. He was raised in Seldovia and graduated from the school in 1974.

"I don't know if anybody expected them to be (at state)," said Gruber, who is Michelle's father. "What's nice about this area is you can see what's coming up at the junior high level.

"I expected them to do well. I've known all these kids for years."

The only thing that has been able to wreck the good time of the Sea Otters this year has been top-ranked Ninilchik, which has defeated Seldovia every time the two have met.

The Sea Otters are hoping to win their semifinal game against Unalakleet today and advance to a possible championship against Ninilchik.

"We know we're a good enough team," Gruber said. "We're the only team that's given them a close game.

"We're really looking forward to the chance to play them again."

As anyone who's followed the Sea Otters' story since last season knows, it's best not to count them out.

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