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High School Sports

Aniak Halfbreeds claim 1A girls state basketball title, giving their village reason to celebrate

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: March 17
  • Published March 17

The Aniak Halfbreeds can party like it's 1999 now that they've won a state basketball championship banner to hang next to the one they won 19 years ago.

The Halfbreeds sank nine 3-pointers and forced 19 turnovers to capture the Class 1A girls championship Saturday afternoon with a 55-44 victory over the Selawik Wolves.

With a loud, proud cheering section behind its bench during the second half at the Alaska Airlines Center, Aniak survived a late push by the Wolves to claim the school's second girls title in history and its first since 1999.

After the game, the Halfbreeds gestured to the sky in honor of a player from the school's 2011 boys state championship team who died last fall. Players wore T-shirts in honor of Bruce "Gotor" Morgan, "and we played in his memory," said junior Kayla Morgan.

Aniak is a small Western Alaska village northeast of Bethel, and it is teeming with Morgans. Wayne Morgan is the coach, and four of his family members are on the team — daughter Skye Morgan, niece Alyssa Morgan and two girls who are the grandchildren of a cousin, Kayla Morgan and Pearl Morgan.

Fewer than 500 people live in Aniak, making for a tight-knit community. People celebrate successes together, Wayne Morgan said, and they grieve losses together.

Lately, there's been plenty of grief. In August, 24-year-old Bruce Morgan was shot to death, and in January, 16-year-old Kayden Morgan and 28-year-old Charlie Lang Jr. were killed in a snowmachine collision with a moose.

In that context, a championship season is enormous, the coach said.

"It's a positive thing," Wayne Morgan said. "It's a positive start to get over our grief and that sense of loss. We're all family members. Community members. This is very positive for us."

Shauna Koonuk, a senior who led the Halfbreeds with 19 points and eight rebounds, said the championship fulfills a season-long goal. The Aniak girls have played in three straight state tournaments, and they figured this year was their time to win it all.

"Since the beginning of the year, this has been our main goal," Koonuk said. "We practice three hours a day, from dinner to night-time.

"We're here, and we did it."

Selawik ruled the rebounds, getting 23 from Kali Howarth to outrebound the Halfbreeds 52-33. But the Wolves missed 36 of of their 50 shots, many of them layups, and gave away the ball 19 times.

Aniak, which finished the season with a 22-5 record, pulled away by forcing seven straight turnovers — five at the end of the first quarter, two at the start of the second quarter — to pull away from the Wolves.

Selawik led 9-5 with three minutes left in the first quarter but turned over the ball on its next five possessions. Aniak only cashed in for four points but that was enough to tie the game, 9-9.

The Wolves gave up the ball on their first two possessions of the second quarter, and Kayla Morgan made them pay for the second one by knocking down a 3-pointer from the baseline.

That was the first of four treys — others came from Koonuk, Alyssa Morgan and Skye Morgan — that lifted the Halfbreeds to a 27-19 halftime lead.

Selawik cut the lead to two points twice in the third quarter, but both times Koonuk answered, the first time with a steal that led to a layup and the second time with a deep 3-pointer.

Aniak built its lead to 12 points early in the fourth quarter before the Wolves cut the gap to 48-41 with six straight points. But by then only 2:25 remained, and on its next possession Aniak played keep-away to slice one minute off the clock, dashing Selawik's hopes of a comeback.

Howarth finished with 16 points for Selawik. Laura Ramoth added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Marjorie Hingsbergen had 11 points.

Besides the big effort from Koonuk, Aniak got 13 points and seven rebounds from Alyssa Morgan and 11 points and eight rebounds from Kayla Morgan, who said the team's dream of winning state goes way back.

"Ever since we were little girls playing outside our houses," she said. "We were always watching our Halfbreeds go to state."

Scammon Bay 68, King Cove 50

After winning the previous two state titles, Scammon Bay settled for the third-place trophy Saturday.

Almira Kaganak poured in 25 points, hitting 8 of her 9 field-goal attempts, to lead the Eagles past King Cove 68-50. Scammon Bay was 12 of 29 from 3-point range.

Jalaya Duarte led King Cove with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Tri-Valley 50, Shaktoolik 39

Two players posted double-doubles to power Tri-Valley past Shaktoolik 50-30 in the fourth-place game.

Olivia Juhl totaled 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Rachel Cockman had 10 points and 14 rebounds to lead Tri-Valley.

Anikan Paniptchuk's 17 points paced Shaktoolik.

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