Kenai's Nate Saltzgiver looks to pass earlier this season.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Multiple first-team all-state selections are often reserved for teams that finish first or second at the state basketball tournament.
A fourth-place squad would usually be fortunate to have one player named to the elite group.
Just consider the Nikiski girls trendsetters.
Following a 22-5 campaign cut short by a one-point, first-round setback to eventual state champion Barrow at the Class 3A state championships last weekend, the Bulldogs rallied to capture fourth behind the outstanding play of seniors Hannah Thompson and Becca Carlson, both of whom were named to the Anchorage Daily News/Alaska Media All-State Basketball first team on Friday.
When informed of the news, Nikiski coach Ward Romans seemed shocked.
Not because the senior duo wasn’t worthy, but due in part to the Bulldogs’ disappointing and unexpected finish.
“Honestly I am surprised. It’s very deserving,” he explained. “But normally you’re going to see multiple players come off a team that wins a state title. But I’m awfully excited. Both have worked real hard.”
The rest of the first team consisted of Melissa Rima of Monroe Catholic, Anna Simmers of ACS and Barrow’s Piggy Pili, who was also selected as the 3A girls Player of the Year.
“I think they both deserve it. It’s really a neat surprise,” Romans said. “All the people on the first team led their team to great state finishes.”
A four-year varsity member, Thompson was named to the first team for the second straight season after averaging 11 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals a game, including eight points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists over the Bulldogs’ final two state tournament victories.
“She makes everyone around her better,” Romans said. “That’s the hallmark of a great player, I think.”
Carlson, though, was the sixth man in her first varsity campaign last season before leading the team with 13 points a game this year.
She’ll also graduate owning the school record for the top free throw percentage for a career at 78 percent.
“Becca has worked very hard. Becca challenged herself in the offseason going into this last year,” Romans said. “She really wanted to make this a special year and contribute to the team’s success. She had a phenomenal senior year.”
While both were able find the hoop at will, it was defense that transformed them into complete players.
Thompson -- who owns the school record for career rebounding, assists and steals -- limited Pili to 14 points in the first-round state setback this season and only nine in last year’s state title contest.
“Hannah’s been a cornerstone for the program for a while now,” Romans said. “They’re outstanding defenders.”
Barrow coach Ryan Myers was named 3A girls Coach of the Year while Petersburg’s Cameron Severson and Rick Brock were selected as 3A boys player and coach of the year, respectively, after leading the Vikings to a state title.
Thompson and Carlson weren’t the only local players honored, though.
After knocking off Chugiak in the opening round of the 4A girls state tournament, the Soldotna girls (22-7) lost their next two contests in placing fifth in their first trip to state in four years.
But that didn’t stop the Stars from having multiple selections on the all-state team.
Senior Christa Kennedy earned a second-team nod while senior Mikala Smith and freshman Karen Senette were named to the honorable mention squad.
“We wouldn’t have got it without them,” SoHi coach Mark Tuter said of the Stars’ tourney run. “They did a really good job holding everything together, both on and off the court. They did a wonderful job. I couldn’t have been more pleased with them.”
Kennedy, Smith and Senette were all capable of leading Soldotna in scoring, as evidenced by the Stars’ thrilling first-round win over the Mustangs when Smith scored a team-high 15 points, Senette netted 12 and Kennedy added 10.
“I think she’s started every game since she was a freshman,” Tuter said of Kennedy, not counting the time Kennedy missed at the end of her sophomore season due to a major knee injury. “She’s had a wonderful, wonderful career.
“Mikala has been our starting point guard since halfway through her freshman year.”
With both seniors lost to graduation next year, Senette will certainly be in the spotlight.
“She’s done a great job,” Tuter said. “She’s probably the most skilled freshman I’ve ever had.”
Juneau-Douglas senior Talisa Rhea, who is heading to Oregon State next year, was selected as the 4A girls Player of the Year while Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax was tabbed Coach of the Year after guiding the Warriors to their first state crown since 1982.
Kenai junior Nate Saltzgiver was selected to the 4A boys honorable mention team following a spectacular season full of solid defense and clutch 3-pointers.
“He made big shot after big shot and none of them were easy,” Kardinals coach Jim Beeson said of his captain.
A three-year starter, Saltzgiver was always in the right place at the right time, either swiping the ball from an opponent’s hand or spotting up for a deep shot.
“He’s one of the kids you kind of take for granted because you know he’s gonna go out and do what you tell him to do and do it the right way,” he said. “The other kids just feed off it. That’s the beauty of it.
“He doesn’t panic and other kids see him and do the same thing,” Beeson added. “Those are the kinds of things that you can’t coach in kids. They either have them or don’t have them.”
Those characteristics were also evident in 4A boys Player of the Year Jesse Bean, a senior who led Wasilla to its first-ever state championship and will continue his career at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks next year.
“He’s another one of those kids who you like to see have success because he does things hard,” Beeson said.
Having fallen to Bean and the Warriors twice this year and watched him play throughout high school, Beeson knows a thing or two about his style of play.
“Everything he does is real quiet but when it comes time to make a big play, he makes the big play,” he explained. “UAF did a great job getting him because he’s going to be a great addition to their program.
“For all the success he’s had, he seems like a normal kid and the success doesn’t go to his head.”
Colony coach Jeff Bowker was named 4A boys Coach of the Year after leading the Knights to a pedestrian 14-11 season but a stunning state tournament run which came up just short when Colony fell to the Warriors in the championship game.
On the Class 1-2A squad, five players from the peninsula were honored. Krista Leman, a 5-7 senior guard from Ninilchik, earned a first-team nod for the second straight year. Cook Inlet Academy senior Melissa Moffis made the second team, while Ninilchik’s Kayleigh Rice, Seldovia’s Tatiana Gruber and CIA’s Brooke Forsi made honorable mention.
Leman won state titles as a freshman and junior, taking second as a senior and third this year.
“I wish I could have had a championship, but this is good, too,” Leman said of making the all-state team.
Leman, the captain of the team, was rewarded for scoring 16 points per game and providing solid leadership. Rice did a good job underneath for the Wolverines.
“She was definitely good at rebounding,” Leman said. “She was not afraid to get in there.”
CIA coach Ted Forsi said Moffis also was a good leader for the Eagles.
“She’s just an excellent defender and excellent ballhandler,” Forsi said. “She was our senior point guard this year and ran the offense. She was just a really steady player on the offensive and defensive ends.”
Moffis is the only starter the Eagles, who finished fourth at state, will be losing. At the head of the strong group coming back is Brooke Forsi, a junior.
“Brooke was our leading rebounder,” Ted Forsi said. “Offensively, she improved during the season. By the end of the year, she was one of our main offensive options.”
Gruber led a Seldovia team that nearly kept CIA from even reaching state. The Sea Otters topped CIA to make it to the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament, but lost the title to Ninilchik, then lost the second-place game to the Eagles.
Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak contributed to this story. Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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