Many high school basketball teams are still searching for an identity this time of year, putting personnel to the test in early-season tournaments like the Grace Christian Classic, a round-robin boys and girls tournament that tipped off Thursday.
The Bethel girls' season opener doubled as the tournament opener, and the Warriors used a second-half surge to topple Service 32-18.
The defending state champion Dimond boys took the court in the next game, picking up their second win of the season in a fast-paced 58-39 affair with Soldotna.
The Grace boys and girls each won late games, the boys thumping Homer 70-28, and the girls slipping past Homer 33-21.
Dimond (2-0) lost seven players from last season's championship squad, with senior Damon Cikanek the only returning starter. Cikanek came up big for the Lynx, scoring all 10 of the team's third-quarter points on his way to a game-high 18.
"He's gotta have a little Travis Thompson in him," said Dimond coach Rob Galosich, referring to the Dimond alum who went on to star at UAA. "He's gotta play like that every night for us to be good."
Cikanek made a couple of long-range shots in the first half, but he said his shot was a little off early when Dimond built a 32-20 halftime lead. Cikanek's shot was on-target at the start of the second half, and he extended Dimond's lead to 40-20 on a pair of 3-pointers and a close-range bucket.
"My coaches told me to keep shooting and they'd eventually fall and I just came out in the third quarter and started hitting 'em," Cikanek said.
Soldotna (2-4), led by 12 points apiece by Colton Young and Cory Carver, battled back to within nine points on a drive by Young in the first minute of the final period, but Dimond pulled away down the stretch.
"We learn every game what we can execute and do better, so we'll definitely learn from this game," Young said. "In the first half we weren't playing really that intense, but we came out strong in the second half."
Bethel (1-0) also struggled early in their win, scoring just eight points in an ugly first half and trailing Service 12-8 at the break.
"We had 15 turnovers in the second quarter," Bethel coach Danielle Craven said. "I think the nerves just got to us in that first half."
A halftime pep talk from Craven helped the Warriors find their game. They held Service (0-4) to two points in the third quarter and led 18-14 at the start of the fourth. Six of their eight third-quarter points came on long bombs from Kayla Williams, who drained the game's only two 3-pointers. Bethel's Emma Reichard led all scorers with eight points.
"I think we were really tired, cause we got in on a late flight yesterday and so it just took us a while to get into our groove," Reichard said. "We knew that we could win it."
The Warriors, who didn't arrive in Anchorage until around 11 p.m. Wednesday and didn't get into their hotel until after midnight, closed on a 14-4 fourth-quarter run.
Bethel's defense forced Service into some tough shots, but the Cougars, led by seven points from Alissa Nanez, struggled to make their good looks as well.
"It's just a bad half, that's what it was," Service junior Sirena Harrison said. "We can really, like normally put the shots up there, but it just wasn't falling for us and I think we held the ball too much, but we'll get back on it."
Grace’s late wins over Homer included a big performance from Hans Karlberg in the boys game.
Karlberg scored eight in the first quarter and buried a pair of second-half 3-pointers on his way to 19 points. Josh Laker tossed in 11 for the Grizzlies, and Eric Johnson hit for 10.
Mary Hogan led the Grace girls with 10 points.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Grace Christian Classic
Bethel 32, Service 18
Grace 33, Homer 21
Dimond 58, Soldotna 39
Grace 70, Homer 28
2 p.m. -- Bethel vs. Homer
5:30 p.m. -- Grace vs. Service
3:45 p.m. -- Soldotna vs. Homer
7:15 p.m. -- Grace vs. Dimond
By JEREMY PETERS