Bulldogs put last year's finish behind them

Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2005

Petersburg, Nikiski's opponent in the opening round of the Class 3A girls state basketball tournament at 1 p.m. today at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, is a long plane ride away from the Kenai Peninsula, so a detailed scouting report is hard to come by.

Some players on Nikiski's team have taken solace heading into the game by watching tape of a different team — last year's Nikiski Bulldogs.

The 2003-04 Bulldogs finished tied for seventh at the state tournament. That's not too shabby, but at Nikiski, where the Bulldogs have won seven state titles during Ward Romans' 15 full seasons as coach, that stands as the worst finish in the 14 state tournaments the Bulldogs have played in under Romans.

Recently, senior Whitney Hitchcock said she and some teammates pulled out some videotape from a year ago.

"We were watching the games from last year and we couldn't believe some of the things we were seeing," Hitchcock said. "We would look at each other, and we'd be like, 'Huh?'

"So we're not worried about what happened last year."

Romans said he makes it a practice in his program to never talk about the past, except to mention the program's strong tradition. He said he doesn't talk about last year even when his team is the defending state champion, so he's following the same practice of not looking back this year.

That puts the focus on Petersburg (18-7 overall) today. Romans was able to talk to Roger Steinbrecher, the Seward girls coach, for some general information about Vikings. Steinbrecher saw Petersburg, which finished fifth in the state last year, play in a tournament in Valdez this season.

"They're more inexperienced this year," Steinbrecher said. "I think if Nikiski plays ball, they'll be in good shape in the first round.

"They have to come out and play the game, but Nikiski's got the people to do it."

Coaching in Alaska for so many years, Romans has become accustomed to coming into a game unfamiliar with an opponent. He said the best way to combat that is to make sure his team comes out playing its best.

In that regard, the Bulldogs (21-3 overall, No. 3 in the Alaska sportswriters' prep poll) are in good shape coming into the tournament. Romans said the team is playing the best basketball it has all year. Nikiski won its 11th Southcentral Conference title by defeating Seward 52-30 on March 19.

"We're feeling good right now," Nikiski senior Eirleen Lee said. "We're not going in lacking confidence, but we're not going in overconfident, either.

"We just have to play hard. We know what we have to do."

Nikiski had a lull in midseason. On Feb. 25, playing without starter Hannah Thompson, the Bulldogs lost to Grace Christian — Nikiski's lone conference loss of the season.

Romans said the team was still maturing at that point after losing two starters from last year.

"We were confident as a team coming into this year," Nikiski senior Krystal Gladden said. "After that loss, we had to take a look at the way we were playing.

"It forced us to become a better team."

Romans said the team has gotten better as the season has progressed and said assistant coaches Sharon Thompson and Jason Tauriainen are a big reason for the improvement.

"As the season has wore on, we have gotten better in all facets of the game," Romans said. "Now, we have to put three games together. That's what this tournament is all about."

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