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Kodiak duo, Dimond sharpshooter join UAA women's basketball team

Beth Bragg

When UAA women's basketball coach Ryan McCarthy went to work recruiting two of the driving forces on Kodiak High's undefeated state championship team, he didn't limit the conversation to playing time, scholarships and chasing more championships.

If they stayed in Alaska, McCarthy told Hannah Wandersee and Jerica Nelson, they could inspire a generation of little girls, just like former UAA great Alysa Horn of Kodiak inspired them.

"Little girls in Kodiak are gonna see them and want to be them," McCarthy said by phone Friday while scouting a girls tournament in Arizona. "Alysa Horn, that was like their hero. I told them, 'You can be that. Some little girl is gonna see you play for UAA and she's gonna want to be like you.' ''

Sold.

Wandersee and Nelson are the latest additions to the Seawolves, a team that already boasts a healthy supply of Alaskans. Four Alaskans were on the roster and a fifth was a redshirt last season, when UAA went 19-9 and earned a berth in the NCAA Division II tournament.

Another Alaskan, Dimond High sharpshooter Tara Thompson, said Friday she will join the team as a walk-on, giving the Seawolves three of the state's premier Class 4A players.

"Me, Hannah and Jerica were all first-team all-state, so it's pretty cool," Thompson said. "I'm just excited to prolong my career in basketball."

Thompson said she was influenced a bit by brother Travis Thompson, an all-conference player for the UAA men who is heading into his final season.

"I kinda look up to my brother," she said. "He's like my role model so that had a little bit of impact, because it's going to be his senior year and I kinda want to be around to see it,"

The three Alaskans will join a team that loses just one player from the recently concluded season -- Kylie Burns, the team's lone senior.

Earlier this school year, McCarthy announced the signing of Leah Bonner, a 6-foot high schooler from Nampa who is Idaho's Gatorade Player of the Year. He said he expects to add one more player.

A handful of players will redshirt, he said, though he didn't say who those players might be.

"We've had discussions with them and they're all for it," McCarthy said. "Our recruiting class is strong enough we can redshirt a couple of kids and be at a number that's manageable to where the ladies won't be angry about playing time."

Wandersee and Nelson come with impressive resumes. Wandersee is a post player who scored more than 1,000 points in four seasons at Kodiak, and Nelson is a point guard who averaged 11.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.7 steals at last month's state tournament.

"They're champions," McCarthy said. "Not too many people can say they won their last game. We're really excited that they're Alaskans, and some of reasons we talked about them coming into UAA were reasons I'm passionate about -- representing your state.

"They're pretty close to their families and it was important their folks had the opportunity to see them play. I honestly think UAA was the place for them. I didn't have to call them every single day, and that goes a long way to me -- when a kid wants to be here, they're highly motivated."

Thompson, a 5-7 guard, was the MVP of the Cook Inlet Conference tournament, where she helped Dimond advance to the state tournament with 42 points in a win over South in the third-place game. She'll attend UAA on an academic scholarship.

"I know I'm not that tall so have to work on my quickness to get open," she said. "Being a walk-on, I want to improve my skills and hopefully earn that (basketball) scholarship, but I know I have to work on my strength, endurance and speed so I can prove myself."

At UAA, Thompson will be reunited with former Dimond High teammate Sierra Afoa, who redshirted as a freshman last season.

"I've known her since I was very little," Thompson said. "Her mom was my kindergartner teacher, so it's pretty awesome."

Thompson, who said she will pursue either engineering or business, said she considered leaving Alaska for college before deciding on UAA.

"I was really debating on whether I wanted to go out of state or in state," she said, "but as long as I get out of the house, that's a step in the right direction."


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com