Sports

Alaska sports week in review: Several Alaskans claim national titles, UAF teams pull off upsets

This past week in Alaska sports saw some outstanding achievements obtained at the prep, collegiate and professional levels across the Alaska sports landscape. There were also some athletes with Last Frontier roots that shined Outside. On the prep sports scene, the Grace Christian boys basketball team got on a hot streak by winning the Mt. McKinley Bank Basketball Tournament. On the college scene, the University of Alaska Fairbanks men’s hockey and women’s basketball teams pulled a pair of stunning upsets.

Headlines and highlights

The 2023 Mt. McKinley Bank Basketball Tournament took place in Fairbanks last week and in its first action since narrowly falling to 2022 4A state runner-up Bettye Davis East days before Christmas, the 2022 3A state runner-up Grace Christian boys rattled off three straight victories to bring the tournament title back to Anchorage. They outscored their three opponents by a combined 182-125 that included a pair of 60-plus-point outings over Ketchikan and Soldotna. Their closest game of the tournament was a 55-39 victory over host Monroe Catholic in the opening round.

On the college hoops scene, the University of Alaska Anchorage had polar opposite performances shooting from the field in a pair of road games that resulted in their winning streak coming to an end. After converting nearly 60 percent of their field goals in a 90-72 win over Central Washington on Thursday that included going 9-of-17 from behind the arc, the Seawolves’ red-hot offense cooled off in a 48-47 loss to Northwest Nazarene on Saturday. In that game, they only converted 32 percent of their field goals that included going 7-of-24 on 3-pointers.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks women’s basketball team accomplished a feat it hadn’t been able to pull off in nearly two decades on Saturday afternoon, beating rival UAA in a stunning upset. Led by sophomore guard Destiny Reimers, its 61-56 triumph marked its first win over UAA since Jan. 27, 2007, in a 85-83 overtime thriller in Fairbanks. The Anchorage native and former Anchorage Christian School standout led the Nanooks with a game-high 25 points that including four 3-pointers.

The UAF men’s hockey team pulled off a shocking victory of its own over the weekend when it upset the top-ranked team in the nation. The 3-1 win over reigning national champion Denver University, coached by Anchorage’s David Carle, on Friday was the first over the Pioneers on the road in program history. The Nanooks capitalized on a pair of power-play opportunities to score their first two goals and junior Garrett Pyke smacked in an unassisted empty-netter for the third. Even though UAF dropped the second game in the series 7-2 the following night, it was still quite the statement weekend for the program.

A week after upsetting and sweeping a nationally-ranked opponent of its own, the UAA men’s hockey team couldn’t build of the momentum and was swept in a two-game series against Maine this past weekend. The Seawolves were shut out 1-0 on Friday and despite a two-goal game from senior forward Ben Almquist, they fell 4-3 in overtime Saturday.

Kwethluk’s Raymond Alexie continued his blazing start to the racing season with a strong first showing in the 2022-23 Kuskokwim 300 racing season. In Saturday’s Holiday Classic, the 19-year-old bested the next closest finisher by more than 15 minutes by covering the 50-mile race in 3 hours, 28 minutes.

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[Alaska sports notebook: 19-year-old bests former Iditarod champion in Kusko Season Opener, UAA women’s basketball breaks program record with road win]

The Anchorage Wolverines dropped their first game of the new year in a 4-2 loss to the Janesville Jets on Wednesday. The teams had split a two-game series the weekend prior. Kade Shea scored their first goal and Anchorage native Aiden Westin scored the second. It marked the end of the team’s five-game road stint and its last game until Jan. 20, when it begins a four-game homestand.

South Dakota State University at the Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Alaska stars shining Outside

Anchorage’s Zach Lujan of South Anchorage High fame played a pivotal role in helping his college alma mater, South Dakota State University, capture the first national championship in program history Sunday. In his first year as the team’s offensive coordinator, the former Jackrabbits quarterback turned-play-caller was the orchestrator of a unit that averaged 33.3 points a game coming into the title tilt with their rival and FCS powerhouse, North Dakota State. He called a masterful game that his players executed beautifully as they cruised to a 45-21 victory.

“It was a little bit poetic and kind of a storybook ending,” Lujan said. “They’ve knocked us out of the playoffs a few times, have been our biggest rival, and have had a lot of success. To not just win a championship but in the manner in which we did and against who we did it makes it a little bit more special.”

[Bleeding blue: Former Anchorage football standout Zach Lujan’s journey has taken him to a national stage]

Anchorage’s Jaren Miller more than doubled his previous career high in scoring for a game with a fantastic 36-point outing in a 122-65 blowout win for Central Wyoming over Miles College on Thursday. The sophomore guard that starred at the prep level for the Grace Christian Grizzlies is having quite the breakout year for the Rustlers as his career-day marked his sixth game of the season in which he has scored in double figures. He came up just shy of tying his career mark two days later on Saturday with 32 points in a 99-65 win over JumpStart Academy.

The U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships took place in Houghton, Michigan, last week and Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center member Hailey Swirbul, won four national titles and Anchorage’s Luke Jager, who represented the University of Utah, won three U.S. titles as well.

[APU’s Swirbul and Anchorage’s Jager add to their national cross-country ski championship totals]

Swirbul’s APU teammate, Rosie Brennan, moved into fourth place in Tour de Ski overall standings with her sixth-place finish in the climb of Alpe di Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy, with a mark of 37:29.5. She hopes her strong finish in the final stages of what is referred to as the Grand Tour of skiing will propel her to greater success as she prepares for the 43rd FIS Nordic World Ski Championships that will be held from Feb. 21 to March 5 in Planica, Slovenia.

“Overall, I had a very steady Tour which is sometimes enough for a good overall result so I’m happy with that,” Brennan wrote in a statement. “I felt my best the last three days which is a good sign for the future and will hopefully allow the tour to act as a good training block for World Championships.”

Last week’s results

Prep Basketball

Girls

Saturday

ACS 79, South 29

Boys

Tuesday

Service 47, Thunder Mountain 43

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Wednesday

Juneau-Douglass 52, Service 50

Thursday

Grace Christian 55, Monroe Catholic 39

Service 40, Juneau-Douglass 37

Friday

Bettye Davis East 82, ACS 40

Grace Christian 65, Ketchikan 49

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Saturday

Grace Christian 62, Soldotna 37

College

Women’s Basketball

Saturday

UAF 61, UAA 56

Men’s Basketball

Thursday

UAA 90, CWU 72

Saturday

Northwest Nazarene 48, UAA 47

Hockey

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Friday

Maine 1, UAA

Saturday

Maine 4, UAA 3 (OT)

NAHL

Wednesday

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Janesville Jets 4, Anchorage Wolverines 2

Three things to watch for this week

Prep

Basketball

AK Prep Shootout at Dimond High School, Thursday, Friday, Saturday

The annual boys hoops tournament that the Lynx host will tip off with a matchup between Dimond and the Anchorage Christian School Lions at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday and conclude with a championship game on Saturday at 5 p.m. The other teams in the tournament are Wasilla, Chugiak, Tikigaq and 2022 3A state runner-up Grace Christian.

College

Men’s Basketball

Simon Fraser at UAA, Saturday at Alaska Airlines Center 7:30 p.m.

Both of the Seawolves hoops teams will be back in town playing a pair of home games on their home court this week. The most notable of the bunch will be the Saturday night GNAC matchup between the men’s team and the Red Leafs because it will be the last game in the illustrious collegiate career of Da’Zhon Wyche. The starting guard’s eligibility expires Jan.14 after the NCAA denied his petition to play an extra semester after he lost one to injury. The former West Anchorage High star was a two-time Alaska 4A player of the year and led the Eagles to a state title in 2015.

Gymnastics

West Chester vs. UAA at Alaska Airlines Center, Friday 6:00 p.m.

The Seawolves will be hosting the Golden Rams in not only their first meet of the season, but since being permanently reinstated. The program was one of three that was discontinued in 2020 but raised enough money to compete in 2022 and on June 22, 2022, they announced they had raised the $888,000 necessary to achieve permanent reinstatement.

[UAA gymnastics reaches fundraising goal for permanent reinstatement]


Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

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