The Cook Inlet Academy girls have only played two games in the Class 1A state basketball tournament, but they have visited five Anchorage basketball courts in three days, three courts being needed to complete the two tournament games.
Saturday's first-round 50-37 win over Buckland was interrupted by gushing water at West High.
A sprinkler-system pipe near the court sprung a leak just as the game was nearing halftime, making the court unplayable. Both teams had to pack up and play the second half at South High.
"It was the weirdest game I've ever been in in my whole life," CIA senior Darlene Bunts said. "We definitely came together and worked hard. It was the best game we've played all season."
South and West each were scheduled to host four boys games and four girls games Saturday, with the CIA-Buckland game being the last at West. CIA didn't complete its victory until after 11 p.m.
Sunday, the Eagles practiced for a couple hours at Grace Christian's gym and also spent some time in Bartlett's gym for a skills competition.
Monday, it was time to hit the court at Sullivan Arena, where the Eagles managed to pull off a come-from-behind 46-37 upset of Klawock, the top-ranked Class 1A girls team in the state in the latest Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches Poll. CIA is ranked third. CIA trailed 32-25 after three quarters but outscored Klawock 21-5 in the final frame.
"We knew we were gonna have to bring our all and do our best to get ourselves through this game," said Bunts, who drained a 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 37-33 lead with 3:21 to play.
CIA coach Rustin Hitchcock was pacing the sideline throughout most of the fourth quarter, even when it appeared the Eagles were putting the game away from the foul line in the final two minutes.
"It was intense, but the girls apparently didn't feel the same intensity, because they were just cool at the free-throw line, draining shots. Bunts stepped up and rimmed in that 3, which I think was just the turning point of the game."
Monday's win means CIA is assured to play the rest of its season out at Sullivan Arena, but Hitchcock said playing in a high school gym might make for a more thrilling experience. Fans at the high school gym sit closer to the court than those in Sullivan Arena, where its tougher to feel the energy from spectators.
"The crowd, as much as they put their heart into it, the noise doesn't even translate, so you feel like you're alone on the court," Hitchcock said.
Basketball fans may notice some familiar teams at the state tournament this week, but they might also notice those teams aren't all playing in the same class as in recent years. Because classification requirements changed at the start of the school year, several teams that formerly played in the Class 2A tournament are now playing in the Class 1A tournament.
Last season's Class 2A boys champion Noorvik and runner-up Scammon Bay are both playing in the Class 1A tournament this week.
"We've had to play at a higher level of competition the past two years, playing against schools like Point Hope and Unalakleet," Scammon Bay boys coach Harley Sundown said. "It really helped us to play at a higher level and we'll still try to keep that higher level of play."
Three of the top five teams from last season's Class 2A girls tournament are playing in this season's Class 1A bracket -- last season's 2A runner-up Cook Inlet Academy, third-place Klawock and fifth-place Nikolaevsk.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News