Since taking fifth place in his first year as girls basketball head coach in 1990, Nikiski's Ward Romans has won 12 Southcentral Conference titles. In the remaining five years, the Bulldogs have taken second place.
So Romans' pick to win the Southcentral Conference this year is no surprise as both the Nikiski boys and girls prepare to open the basketball season in Homer on Saturday.
"ACS, like I said, took second place in state, so they're going to be contenders," he said. "Grace Christian is solid and Seward is going to be a lot better.
"I'll take Nikiski. It's going to be a long season and all the teams have holes to fill. It's going to be a real exciting tournament up there at ACS."
Last season, the Anchorage Christian Schools Lions came down to Nikiski and topped the Bulldogs in the conference title game after the Bulldogs had gone 19-3 in the regular season. Romans said the Lions, who lost to Barrow 54-51 in the Class 3A state championship, return most of their team this year. The Lions had just three seniors on their state tournament roster last season.
"I'm going to have to go with ACS," said Seward coach Angela Hammer, when asked for a favorite. "They were really strong last year."
The talk of the favorites on the boys side of the Southcentral Conference also has an Anchorage flavor. Grace Christian and Heritage Christian represented the league at state last season, with Grace notching a 32-27 victory in the Class 3A third-place game.
Heritage, which is coached by Brad Lauwers and did not have a senior on its state tournament roster, is Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad's pick to win the league.
"They have experience from playing all year long in leagues," Kornstad said. "They execute better than just about any team I saw play last year. They've got a great coach. There's not a coach that I've seen that's better. And they work tremendously hard."
Kornstad also expects Grace and ACS to be near the top of the league. He said the Lions probably have the league's best player in Chad Dyson.
"It's an accomplished region," said Kornstad, whose squad did not win a league game until the conference tournament last season. "There's not an easy game on our schedule."
Seward coach Dan Krier gives the edge to Grace Christian, while also saying Heritage and ACS are going to be very good. Krier said that 6-foot-8 senior center Kellan Moll should give the Grizzlies the edge.
The following is a closer look at the peninsula's Southcentral Conference teams:
Nikiski girls chase another league titleRomans lost four starters from last year's team. The only returner is Tasha Thompson, who also is the team's lone senior.
"If I've got to have one senior on the team I'm glad it's Tasha," Romans said. "She's a great leader. I'm excited about her being the person that's going to set the example for the rest of the girls."
Romans is counting on a large junior class stepping up and playing a major role. Those juniors are Rachel Romans, Eliza Chadwick, Samantha Rorrison, Lacey Carlson and Shalene Peek. Sophomores Bradie Anderson, Kassi Johnson and Abby Chadwick make up the rest of the varsity.
"It's a great group of kids that work hard and care about each other," Romans said. "I'm excited about the opportunities. I like this team."
Romans said the Bulldogs will look to get a little scoring from everybody after losing their top two scorers from a year ago. Defense and rebounding will be a must.
"We make sure we have those every year," Romans said.
Anchorage schools to play major role in deciding Southcentral hoops champions
The Seahawks went 2-8 in the league last season, but second-year coach Hammer expects a better team this season.
"I feel pretty good after the first week of practice," she said. "We're a little more on the ball than last year. We're spending a little less time on the fundamentals and more time working on our game an offense and defense to get us somewhere."
The Seahawks lost a pair of starters from last season, but return experience in seniors Denali Foldager, Rubye Foldager, Tarrah Beals, Ivana Banic, Michelle Buchanan and Katie Cain.
Hammer also said junior Aubrey Stone, sophomore Tess Berry and freshman Emily Draper are welcome additions to the program.
"Last year our main focus was to get as many people as much playing time as possible," Hammer said. "Hopefully it'll help us out this year.
"We're a pretty small team I think our tallest player is 5-8 so we're going to try and rely on our court experience from last year."
The coach said one noticeable difference in practice is that more players are looking to score the basketball.
Kornstad, entering his eighth year as coach, said his players gained valuable experience last year. He just wonders if it will be enough experience.
"It sounds weird to say, but if you compare us to last year our strength is our experience compared to last year," he said. "We still have a young team compared to teams we're going to be playing. So even though it's an area of improvement, it's still a problem."
The Bulldogs had a ton of different starting lineups last year, and lost three players that started. Senior Jesse Cook saw starting time, as did juniors Evan Holloway and Sheridan Olson and sophomore Brando Wik.
Other contributors this season will be seniors Josh Lofquist and Drew Oyler and juniors Wiley Bennett and Justin Wik.
"Now that they understand more of what we want, and know more about how to play the game, their minds aren't so preoccupied with X's and O's," Kornstad said. "They're learning how to work hard and compete."
Dan Krier, now in his fifth season as head coach, finished with a 6-6 regular season mark in the conference last season.
He said he lost three or four starters from last season, but returns good experience in juniors Travis Price, Trevor Olsen and Robert Perea. Junior Dylan Beck and senior Brandon O'Brikis the team's tallest player at 6-2 will join the squad after wrestling season.
Krier also said senior Hunter Berry, a transfer from Nenana, is a welcome addition. The coach added that there is a group of freshmen coming up that could eventually contribute.
"We're going to have a lot more quickness than last year," Krier said. "We should be a better ballhandling team and I hope we turn the ball over a lot less.
"I feel very confident about the fact that this is a very coachable group. They've shown good work ethic thus far."
Krier said his biggest concern is his team's lack of height.
"To be successful this year, we're going to have to be a very good rebounding team," he said.
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