Got a good thing going

Ron Wilmot

The last time the Wasilla girls basketball team lost a Northern Lights Conference game, "Gladiator" was nominated for an Academy Award, Destiny's Child was climbing the charts with "Independent Woman Part 1", and the current crop of Warriors were all in grade school.

The date was Feb. 13, 2001, a Tuesday night at Colony High. Knights guard Kelly Quinn hit two free throws with one second remaining as Colony beat Wasilla 39-38.

Ninety-two games and seven years later, Wasilla has yet to lose to a conference foe, in either regular-season or tournament play.

During that span, Wasilla has strung together six straight 10-0 conference seasons and seven straight conference-tournament championships.

Colony, Palmer, Homer, Kodiak, Soldotna, Skyview and Kenai must be getting sick of this.

Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax wasn't married yet when the streak began, and went by just Hebert. Hebert-Truax talks about the streak with her players like she talks of championship expectations -- you talk about it, you make it a goal, but you don't try to make it a big secret and you certainly don't dwell on it.

"I just talk to them about getting better," Hebert-Truax said Wednesday, after Palmer nearly broke the streak in a 42-40 loss at Wasilla. "Because all streaks have to come to an end some time. The thing about my kids is improving and playing hard every night, no matter who it is."

That no-nonsense approach has served Hebert-Truax and the Warriors well.

On Wednesday, it calmed down a young Wasilla team -- two freshman and a sophomore are in the starting lineup -- that looked sloppy and erratic before beating Palmer with a 10-2 run to close the game.

With about four minutes to play and Palmer in the lead, Hebert-Truax called a timeout after a bad turnover. Despite the noise of the band playing, the home crowd cheering, the pressure building and her young team looking disjointed, she smiled. It seemed to calm the team.

"If the coach is still happy when we're down and screwing up, it helps to know she's still supporting us, she still has our back," senior guard Shelby Fulton said.

Hebert-Truax likely wasn't happy, just not rattled. Palmer led 38-30 with less than five minutes left. The streak was on the line.

Rarely has Wasilla been tested like this. A double-overtime win over Homer in the 2005 conference championship was the last time the streak was in such peril.

Junior guard Jenna Johnson said she was thinking about the streak at that point. She remembered how, after Wasilla won its first state title last season, the departing seniors said, "Keep it alive. Don't be the team to lose it."

"We knew that was going to be the end of the streak, so we said, 'Let's push it right now,' " Johnson said.

She did, driving to the rim to draw free throws and scoring on another drive. But Wasilla's young players contributed too.

Six-foot-4 freshman forward Kelsey Cottle scored six points and was unafraid to match elbows inside with Palmer's more experienced players.

Sophomore guard Skyler Nuss played a big defensive role on Palmer guard Matti Cox.

And with 10 seconds left, freshman forward Celeste Colegrove hit the biggest shot of her young career.

With the score tied, Johnson drove to the rim but lost the ball. It rolled right to Colegrove, who stood near the left baseline. She scooped it up and drained a short bank shot.

The Wasilla crowd went nuts.

But Palmer had one last shot. Kelsey Campbell launched a three-pointer with hands in her face. The ball swished through as Campbell fell to the floor. But officials ruled the shot came after the buzzer. Palmer players and coaches were on the floor to protest.

Hebert-Truax said Campbell got the ball with 0.6 seconds left -- not enough time to square up and shoot.

"Our goal was to not let them get a three-pointer off, and they didn't," she said with a smile.

The streak goes on.

Find Ron Wilmot online at adn.com/contact/rwilmot or call 1-907-352-6712.

Notable Alaska prep streaks

Some of the longest unbeaten or winning streaks in Alaska high school sports history:

• Ninilchik girls basketball, 97 games, 2000-04

• Service girls soccer, 93-match unbeaten streak, 1994-99

• Wasilla girls basketball, 92 games against conference opponents, 2001-current

• Service girls soccer, 77-match unbeaten streak, 1986-1991

• East girls basketball, 63 games against Alaska teams, 2000-03

• West boys basketball, 51 games against Alaska teams, 2004-07

• South hockey, 49-game unbeaten streak, 2006-07

• East girls basketball, 38 games, 2000-02

• East boys basketball, 37 games against Alaska teams, 1993-1995

• East football, 29 games, 1985-87

• Palmer girls basketball, 26 games, 1991

• Juneau boys basketball, 25 games, 1998-99

• Palmer football, 21 games, 1995-96

• Eielson football, 19 games, 1992-93

• Service gymnastics, 18 straight undefeated seasons, 1985-2004

SOURCE: Daily News research


By RON WILMOT
rwilmot@adn.com