The Homer and Seward girls basketball teams will once again represent the Kenai Peninsula at the state basketball tournament at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
The Seahawks (15-10 overall) will be making their 10th appearance in Roger Steinbrecher's 11 years of coaching at the school. Seward will open play in the Class 3A tournament against Mt. Edgecumbe (21-1, No. 2 in the Alaska sportswriters' prep poll) at 8:30 p.m. today.
Homer (17-8 overall) will be making its second straight appearance at the Class 4A tournament. The Mariners will play Service (20-5 overall, No. 2 in the prep poll) at 3:30 p.m. today.
Seward finished fourth in the 3A state tournament last year, beating Mt. Edgecumbe 63-37 in the fourth-place semifinals. However, Seward lost all five starters from last year's team so that result means little.
Steinbrecher said the Braves have rolled to their impressive record by relying on quickness and a pressure defense.
"We have to worry about the quickness thing," said Steinbrecher, who has won one state title while at Seward. "We have to make sure we take care of the basketball."
Steinbrecher said his squad will need solid perimeter play throughout the tournament from seniors Teal Hetrick, Lara Loomis and Serena Hoogland. Just as important, according to the coach, will be the play underneath from juniors Kursten Stallings and Rachael Crane and senior Kylee Adelman.
Despite a 22-point loss to Nikiski in the finals of the Southcentral Conference Tournament, Steinbrecher said his team is playing well right now.
Like other coaches, Steinbrecher is not thrilled about the extra week between the conference and state tournaments this year, but he also realizes the extra time has been a handicap for every team.
The Seahawks tried to stay sharp by scrimmaging with Wasilla, the top-ranked team in Class 4A, Friday in Anchorage.
"We're just concentrating on winning this first ballgame," Steinbrecher said. "We think it's within reach, even though they are a team with a good record."
The Mariners are faced with the task of slowing down Service and guard Lillian Bullock, who earned first-team all-state honors last year in leading Dimond to the 4A state title.
Service is on a roll after winning the Cook Inlet Conference tournament, but the Mariners also are on a nice hot streak.
The Mariners had won seven straight before losing to Wasilla in the finals of the Northern Lights Conference tournament in double overtime.
Megan Murphy, in her first year as coach of Homer, said improved defensive tactics and intensity have fueled Homer's recent run. The game with Wasilla only improved Homer's confidence.
"It was huge," Murphy said of the game against the Warriors. "It was good for the girls on the team just to know they can play with any team in the state."
Murphy said Homer will have to continue to play good defense if it is to slow down Bullock. Although this will be Murphy's first time at state with Homer, the team still has experience from last year's trip, when it lost its first two games.
"I think it's nice for those who've played at state last year to know what they're getting into the vastness of the venue and the excitement at state," Murphy said.
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