Class 1A play-in day is March Madness on steroids

Beth Bragg
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Nikolaevsk's Megan Hickman shows disappointment after her team's loss in a close game against Buckland on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The opening round of the 1A state basketball tournament began Saturday. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Luba Dorvall cheers for the Nikolaevsk Warriors, including her daughter Nianiella Dorvall, on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Nikolaevsk lost a close game to Buckland. The opening round of the 1A state basketball tournament began Saturday. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Scammon Bay fans check the scoreboard as they cheer on their team on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Yakutat's Billy Brown lays the gal up in a game against Scammon Bay on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The opening round of the 1A state basketball tournament began Saturday. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Scammon Bay's Theodore Sundown drives inside in a game against Yakutat on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Cook Inlet Academy and Yakutat players scramble for the ball on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Cook Inlet Academy's Emma Lyons tries to pass the ball as Yakutat's Ciara Lord reaches around her on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The opening round of the 1A state basketball tournament began Saturday. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Yakutat's Jasmine Long passes the ball as Cook Inlet Academy's Richele McGahan defends on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Yakutat's Ciara Lord takes as shot as Cook Inlet Academy's Madison Orth defends on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News Layla Pavlik makes up Yakutat's one-person cheerleading squad on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The school has four cheerleaders, but three also play basketball. The game was held at West High School in Anchorage.
Marc Lester

The Saturday before Alaska's state high school basketball tournaments take over Sullivan Arena is March Madness on steroids. Thirty-two teams play 16 games at two gymnasiums, with the winners advancing to the big dance on the big floor.

It's a day that is all about the tiniest schools in the state, the ones with enrollments of 60 or less.

It's a day when the smart money is on the Huskies and the Eagles -- the Akiachak Huskies played the Koliganek Huskies in one game, and the Yakutat Eagles faced the Cook Inlet Academy Eagles in another.

It's a day for geographical mind-blowers like the game between Kake, from the Alaska panhandle, and St. Mary's, from western Alaska. Or the game between King Cove, from the Aleutian Islands, and Wainwright, from the North Slope.

It's a day for Shamans and Belugas and Sea Otters and Northern Lights, because what Alaska's small schools lack in enrollment, they make up for with awesome nicknames.

There are 120 schools in Class 1A, almost twice as many as the combined total of those in Class 4A (20), Class 3A (21) and Class 2A (21). Because eight teams from every classification make it to state, the Alaska School Activities Association decided last year that Class 1A deserved a bigger field.

And so 16 boys teams and 16 girls teams played high-stakes games Saturday at West High and South High to decide which ones will move on to Sullivan Arena and continue their drive for a state title and which ones will stay put at West or South and drop into a consolation tournament.

Saturday at West High, an afternoon game between the boys teams from the Golovin Lynx and Toksook Bay Islanders provided a microcosm of small-school basketball.

Golovin has an eight-man roster that is expected to shrink to five, maybe fewer, next season. There is a distinct possibility the school won't have a boys team, or will have a coed team that will have to play against all-boys teams, coach J.T. Sherman said.

"It's gonna be real sad," Sherman said. "We're not ready for it. This year we were second (in the Bering Sea region) and the three years before that we were first."

Sherman lives in Nome, about 100 miles away from Golovin, a village of 170 on the Iditarod trail. During the season he spends Thursday through Sunday in Golovin -- the Lynx practice on Saturday and Sunday in order to have more time with their coach. It's been like that for six years, Sherman said.

One of Sherman's sons, Jerry, is an assistant coach who keeps an eye on the team Monday through Wednesday. Another of his sons, Casey, is a first-team all-state player. Two of his nephews are also on the team.

Golovin suits up two eighth-graders, something ASAA permits at the small-school level in order to enable the tiniest schools to field teams. Sherman said the Lynx will lose three players from this season's team, two to graduation and another who is transferring to the Mt. Egdecumbe boarding school in Sitka. Another might transfer to another village school. And there are no seventh-graders at the school, meaning no newcomers next season.

"We've always had a boys team, but next year is the first time in forever there will be no eighth-graders," Sherman said.

Toksook Bay coach Simeon Lincoln has a different kind of problem -- too many players. Sixteen are on the team, four more than are allowed to suit up for games. That means four players stay home whenever the Islanders leave their Nelson Island home.

Those who make the traveling team are those who make the grade, Lincoln said.

"They have to get their academics up, because I take the ones with the best GPAs," he said. "It's been very, very effective. It keeps the students academically up there."

There are 20 boys in the high school and all but four play basketball -- the most players that Lincoln has had in 20 years of coaching. He said his players are on track to graduate.

Toksook Bay beat Golovin 95-70 to advance to the state tournament that begins Monday at Sullivan Arena. Lincoln said the team will celebrate with a steak dinner Sunday at the Outback Steakhouse.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

 


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com