The Arctic Sounder

Buckland girls to compete for fourth place at state after a sweeping win. Nunamiut girls unite despite the defeat, injuries and a small team

Besides dramatic wins and losses, the 1A State Championship is bringing a sense of unity to Northwest Arctic and North Slope teams.

Buckland Sissauni girls defeated their neighbor Anaktuvuk Pass on Friday by 28 points and will compete for fourth place in the 1A state basketball tournament on Saturday morning.

Sissauni – who won over Scammon Bay 58 to 49 and lost to Klawock 45 to 48 – secured a sweeping 70 to 42 victory on Friday. From the beginning of the game, the girls led by single digits and widened the difference in the second half.

“We kind of told them to, you know, ‘Let’s play. Let’s get a good lead,’” Buckland Girls’ Coach Tony Jones said. “So that’s what happened.”

Buckland’s Friday opponent, Nunamiut girls from the Anaktuvuk Pass, came together despite injuries among the teammates and the small size of the team. The girls showed unity first during the game, and then – when the whole team received the Player of the Game award.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen this,” one of the judges said.

“It touched our hearts,” said Catherine Edwards, who works at the Anaktuvuk Pass school’s office. “A lot of us were crying.”


The recognition was well deserved. An already small six-people Nunamiut girls’ team shrank even more when two players got hurt during the championship games. On Thursday, Krista Hugo sprained her knee, and on Friday, Anna Nukapigak hurt her ankle.

“They didn’t give up,” Edwards said. “They fought that whole way, even when they had four players.”

When Nukapigak fell during the Friday game, there was a pause and an emotional response from the crowd and the teammates.

“When an Anaktuvuk Pass player got hurt, the whole team got on their knees and prayed,” said Janet Mitchell of Kivalina who was watching the game.

Edwards said that both Aaktuvuk Pass teams did not have an easy season: with only two seniors, one on the boys’ team and Arianna Hart on the girls’ team, young players still had a lot to learn.

“There were a lot of challenges throughout the whole year, and we just pushed through it, worked together as a community, as a family, and made sure they’re taken care of really good,” Edwards said. “We’re gonna work hard and try our best to come back next year, really work those young ones.”

This year, Anaktuvuk Pass fans were ready to cheer for the team no matter what.

“Half the village is here to support them,” said Edwards, who wore a bow with the team’s colors, with matching nail polish and earrings.

“They are champs in our hearts always,” former coach Amanda Gerke said.

Tense games for Noatak girls

Napaaqtugmiut Lynx Girls of Noatak had an intense state championship.

After winning over Anchorage’s Lumen Christi with a score 35 to 26 on Wednesday, the Lynx lost to Fort Yukon 44 to 49.

The Thursday game started with a tie that Napaaqtugmiut broke by the fifth minute. In the second period, the teams were tied again, and by the end of the first half, Fort Yukon gained am about a 10-point lead and maintained it until the end.

The Friday game was even more tense: Lynx faced Bristol Bay and a tight 37 to 38 defeat.

Lynx started their Friday match strong, securing a 10-point difference in the first period and holding it throughout the first half of the game.

“The game was good in the first half but then got a little” more challenging, Brooke Schaeffer said.

In the third period, two of the key players, Schaeffer and Danielle Onalik, received fouls.

Onalik “plays her heart out, in every game,” Mitchell said. “She doesn’t give up. And because of that, she’s so fast and she tends to foul out, and Brooke is the same way.”


Without Onalik and Schaeffer, the team needed to work hard to hold the leadership for one more quarter.

By the last minutes of the game, their rival finally caught up, point by point, and broke through.

Lynx lost it, but only with a point difference.

Sherry Swan, who received the best player of the game award, as well as seniors Claryssa Booth and Gloria Carter were the players who made sure Lynx were as close to the win as possible, Schaeffer said.

“It’s just letting our seniors play,” Schaeffer said. “They finally got their shots and then they finally played how they know how to play with a big crowd.”

Coach Millie Shy said that the whole team deserves credit for the results.

“All of them put in good work every time they go on the court,” Shy said.

Nunamiut boys hope for the next season

The Nunamiut boys’ team had some emotional losses during the championship games but expressed a strong hope for the next season.


After losing to Anchorage’s Lumen Christi on Wednesday, the team lost to Aniak with a score of 50 to 61 on Thursday.

“Aniak always plays really good against us so they stepped up and hustled us today,” Coach Jessica Becker said. “Next year will be a different story.”

Becker said the team has been working hard to get to the state championship.

“Justus Mulcahy, he’s our ball handler, he does a really good job there,” she said. “Tyler Hugo played a really good game, he’s one of our best rebounders and scorers.”

Hugo, who won the Player of the Game, said he and his team showed some strengths, but there is a lot they have to work on for the next year.

“Our shooting was pretty good,” Hugo said. “We have to work on a lot: Ball handling, moving the ball around and passing the ball, ... free throws and driving it in layups… A lot.”

This year, the team is losing one senior, William Hugo, but with so many young and strong players, coach Becker said she is hopeful for the next season.

“That kid, he worked so hard. He’s a key player on our team and we’re gonna miss him,” she said about William Hugo. “But we’re a really young team so I’m super excited about the future.”

Correction: The previous version of the story incorrectly stated the place Buckland girls were to compete for on Saturday.

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.