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‘We made history’: After 22 years, Lumen Christi plays in state basketball tournament

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: 6 days ago
  • Published 6 days ago

The Lumen Christi girls basketball team, with only seven players, has qualified for the Class 1A tournament for the first time in 22 years. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Nyadeng Puoy, a junior at Lumen Christi High School, says she spends so much time at the school that it's her second home.

She soaks up a lot of knowledge during the hours she spends in classrooms, hallways and the gymnasium, and so she knows all about the history of the girls basketball team she plays on.

Nikelle Sherman is a 2007 graduate of the school on Jewel Lake Road and recently bought a home nearby. She played four years for the Archangels, she was the school's first girl to play college basketball on a scholarship, and she knows all too well about the history of the girls basketball team she coaches.

That history? Pretty simple: for the more than two decades of the school's existence, the girls basketball team has never played at the state tournament.

That will change Wednesday morning at the Alaska Airlines Center when the Archangels meet Buckland at 9:30 in the opening round of the Class 1A state tournament.

Lumen Christi earned its state berth by beating favored Ninilchik in the championship game of the Peninsula Conference tournament earlier this month.

"We made history, and that's what our goal has been ever since freshman year," Puoy said.

Lumen Christi girls basketball coach Nikelle Sherman, a 2007 alum, leads her team through a practice last week. (Bill Roth / ADN)

For 29-year-old Sherman, it's been a goal for even longer.

"We're a 22-year-old school and the girls have never gone to state and I've been part of this for 15 years," she said.

She counts the four years she played on the team and all of the years since, because once an Archangel, always an Archangel. Even though she was the C team coach at South for awhile, she gave up coaching at a Class 4A school when an opportunity came up at Lumen Christi, home to 75 students in grades 7 through 12.

"It's my alma mater," Sherman said. "I'm so much more connected to this school."

It's a tiny place, Lumen Christi High School. Turn left when you walk in and you're in the gym, which is big enough for a regulation basketball court and a row of bleachers on one side.

The night the Archangels beat Ninilchik 32-23 in the regional championship game, the place was packed.

"After the game they all rushed the court," senior Maeve Bakic said.

The Lumen Christi girls basketball team goes through drills during a practice last week. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Lumen Christi beat the Wolverines behind 15 points from Puoy and a solid defensive effort against DeeAnn White, the Peninsula Conference MVP. White usually scores 20 points a game, but Lumen limited her to 12 in the title game.

"Our whole entire school came and watched," Puoy said. "I didn't hear the other side, but our side was wild, stomping and cheering. It was fun to watch and hear."

Puoy and Bakic are among seven girls on the team. While that's a typical team size in Class 1A hoops, last year the Archangels had 10 or 12 players.

This season, they had to learn to play with a much shorter bench.

"You know if you get hurt, you have to shake it off," Bakic said. "… Usually we scrimmage the boys, and coach brings in women from her basketball league to play us."

Bakic said Sherman helped the team develop a commitment to the work required to achieve its goal — making it to state. Sherman said that commitment paved the way to state.

"Their improvement is really the treasure," Sherman said. "Last year we had all these girls and our MVP moved and it was a dagger to our heart, but these girls didn't give up and they frigging did better than last year.

"I saw the potential last year. I believed in it this year because I saw it in them, wanting it."

Bakic said a lot of the credit goes to Sherman, who returned to Anchorage in 2011 after graduating from Stevenson University in Maryland.

Sherman had plans to go to law school after college, but her sister, Victoria Kruger, was playing basketball at Lumen Christi and Sherman couldn't resist the opportunity to help out at her old school. She found a job as a paralegal and last year married one of the lawyers in her firm.

"She has definitely played toward our specific strengths," Bakic said.

Maeve Bakic, center, puts up a shot during practice. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Bakic is a leader on and off the court, and Puoy is a scorer with an aggressive style. Both made the all-conference team and the all-tournament team, and teammates Sophia Dupras and Jaime Martin joined them on the all-tournament team. Rounding out the squad are Julianne Estes, Kiaya Thorsness and Parker Klem.

During every timeout in the championship win over Ninilchik, the girls were reminded of their school's history in girls basketball — and their chance to change that history.

Once they did it, Bakic stopped thinking about history and started thinking about the present.

For her, the best part about qualifying for the state tournament "is playing with my team another week."

"I'm not going to have this next year. I'm not going to be here next year," she said. "That makes me value it a little more.

"State's a nice bonus. I'm super excited."

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