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East softball team has state's latest super streak

Mike Nesper
Sydney Smith and Taria Page celebrate a score near the end of the game. East beat Lathrop, 10-2, in the large school state championship softball title game on Saturday, June 1, 2013. Marc Lester

The first rule about a winning streak is you don't talk about the winning streak.

Just ask East's softball team.

On second thought, don't.

Since losing to West on May 23, 2012, the T-birds have won 51 consecutive games and back-to-back state titles. East's 15-0 victory over Bartlett on Wednesday eclipsed Chugiak's 50-game win streak set over two softball seasons from 2003-04.

East is staying tight-lipped about the subject. Superstition or not, the T-birds aren't testing the sports gods on this one.

"It's something we shouldn't talk about," junior Taria Page said. "It will curse our streak."

There's no debate East is currently one of Alaska's top prep softball teams, but the T-birds are far from matching some of the state's longest high school streaks -- a list that includes a juggernaut Service gymnastics squad, Ninilchik's dominant cagers and a Service girls soccer program that produced two incredible unbeaten streaks.

While East isn't talking about a potential second straight undefeated season -- in part because the T-birds don't want to appear cocky -- it's a common topic for opposing teams. The competitors' pre-game speech is always the same, Page said:

"East is the best team. We have to come out here and bring our A-game."

That puts a lot of pressure on the team every time East takes the field, Page said.

"It's intimidating in a way, but we just have to play through it," she said.

Scooter Bynum of Fairbanks knows the feeling.

The past two seasons, every boys basketball team in Alaska has been eager to disrupt Monroe's 48-game win streak, he said.

"You get everybody's best effort and everybody's best crowd," Bynum said. "Every time we played on the road it was a hostile environment.

"I loved that."

Like East, Monroe doesn't discuss its streak, said Bynum, the reigning Class 3A Player of the Year who guided the Rams to three straight state titles. Nor did the recent graduate mention it in his departing words to next season's returners.

"Just play the game the right way," Bynum told his teammates.

SUPER SERVICE

When a streak spans multiple seasons, avoiding the topic becomes increasingly difficult. It also starts to wear on the team.

"After a while, it does become cumbersome," said Mike Montgomery, who coached Service's girls soccer program to separate unbeaten streaks of 77 and 93 games during the mid-1980s and '90s.

Still, no one wants it to end with a loss, Montgomery said, or even a draw. From 1994-99, the Cougars went 90-0-3. Montgomery still remembers that first tie to Palmer.

"It was devastating," he said.

Under Montgomery, Service also won 77 straight matches from 1986-1991. Four years before that streak began, in the first season soccer was played in the Anchorage School District, Service scored just one goal during a winless season.

The subsequent success stemmed from hard work, Montgomery said.

"They really trained hard," he said. "I never coached girls like little fragile cupcakes. I trained them like athletes."

And it was those athletes who continued to rack up victories over the years, Montgomery said, noting that coaches can't control a match's tempo.

"In soccer, there are no timeouts," he said. "It's definitely a players' sport."

Service also dominated gymnastics from 1986-2003. The Cougars won an unbelievable 18 straight conference crowns and didn't lose a single competition during that span.

HALL OF FAME BOUND

In August, Ninilchik's father-daughter duo of Dan and Whitney Leman will be inducted into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame. Together, they won four straight Class 2A girls state basketball championships, and from 2000-04, the Wolverines won 97 straight games.

There is, however, an asterisk attached to that streak. Homer beat Ninilchik in an endowment game in February 2003, but ASAA, the governing body of Alaska high school sports, doesn't count endowment games when compiling records.

If it had counted, it wouldn't have mattered, Dan Leman said.

"We didn't care," he said.

Continuing a winning streak wasn't a priority for Leman. That's why he scheduled games against bigger schools, like Class 4A Homer.

"We weren't scheduling to keep any sort of record intact," Leman said. "We were just trying to play good teams, to stay strong."

Still, it was a fun ride.

"It was a really neat thing for the kids and the school," Leman said. "I don't know if that's going to happen again."

Reach Mike Nesper at mnesper@adn.com or 257-4335

 


By MIKE NESPER
mnesper@adn.com