Her knees shook. Her heart throbbed. Her fans cheered. Then came the butterflies.
Chandice Cronk was a nervous wreck sitting on the bench during the announcement of Santa Clara's starting lineup before the start of Wednesday's Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout championship game against UAA at Sullivan Arena.
She'd been on this floor years ago, three times for Wasilla in the Class 4A girls state basketball tournament. Still, she could hardly contain the excitement that comes with playing for a Shootout title during your senior year.
Once Cronk's name was called, though, and she high-fived her Santa Clara teammates before a crowd of 3,000 fans, her nerves seemingly turned to steel.
"When I really get nervous, it works out in my favor," Cronk said. "I was in the zone."
The 2004 Class 4A girls basketball player of the year started strong, scoring 13 first-half points on 5-of-7 shooting and finishing with a team-high 20 points for the Broncos. She played all 40 minutes, but in the end, the result wasn't what Cronk had hoped.
Santa Clara surrendered a 15-point lead to UAA with seven minutes left in the game and the Seawolves prevailed 52-50 to win their second-straight Shootout title.
As the Seawolves celebrated Rebecca Kielpinski's game-winning layup with 3.3 seconds left in regulation, Cronk just sat in her chair numb.
"I'm jealous of that Shootout trophy they've got," she said. "I wanted that more than I've wanted a lot of things in life."
A 5-foot-8 guard who grew up in Northway near the Canadian boarder, Cronk has become one of the top three-point shooters in the country. Before college, some of her best basketball memories came on the Sullivan Arena hardwood.
"I've only been here for big games," she said. "It's a different attachment to this gym than to any other gym."
That attachment started her sophomore year, playing in the 2002 4A girls state championship game against East. But Wasilla fell 50-47 to the Thunderbirds.
A season later, Cronk had a chance at redemption in the 2003 state title game against Chugiak. But once again, the Warriors lost, 57-42 to the Mustangs.
And as a senior, Cronk's Warriors made it to the state tournament but failed to reach the finals.
Four years later, a small but vocal Cronk fan club gathered at Sullivan on Thursday, bringing back some high school memories. Cronk's younger sister, Ashlee, sat with the crowd, most of whom wore white Wasilla hoops T-shirts, and stood after each point to flash a sign that read, "That's my sis!"
"It was awesome coming back," Cronk said about hearing them cheer. "It was a familiar sound from high school. But a win would have been better. Give credit to UAA; they did awesome."
Despite the tears that rolled down Cronk's cheeks after receiving her all-tournament team gold pan, she remembered the great times she shared with her teammates this week.
Cronk showed the Broncos a good time the Valley. Snow never falls in Santa Clara, and nine of the 13 players on the team's roster are from non-winter cities. For them, visiting Alaska was special.
"It was fun," she said.
On Sunday, before the rains fell, the team visited Cronk's parents' house in Wasilla for a Thanksgiving feast and an afternoon play in the snow. Located in the countryside of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the house was decorated with red Christmas lights. They draped over the deck and spelled out Santa Clara.
"Almost everyone hadn't seen snow before," Cronk said.
To introduce her teammates to powder, Cronk busted out the snowmachines. Her family also bought plastic sleds to toboggan in the front yard.
"It's not even a hill," she said. "It's a sloping driveway. But people were slamming into the banks and rolling all over."
Once she revved up the snowmachines, all hell broke loose at the Cronk household.
"This little dog started chasing us, and they thought it was a wolf," Cronk laughed. "It was crazy -- one of the funniest things I've ever seen and I just loved it.
Find Daily News sports reporter Kevin Klott at adn.com/sports/kklottt or 257-4335.
•Rebecca Kielpinski, UAA*
•Kalhie Quinones, UAA
•Chandice Cronk, Santa Clara
•Jen Gottschalk, Santa Clara
•Maria Nilsson, UAA
•Kailey Klein, Cleveland State
* Most Outstanding Player
By KEVIN KLOTT
Anchorage Daily News