It had been nearly four decades since the Nome-Beltz boys basketball team won a state title.
That drought ended Saturday.
Head coach Patrick Callahan finally earned a championship, the first one in decades when his Nanooks edged out Grace Christian 49-47 in the Alaska 3A Boys State title game.
There have been plenty of near-misses for Nome-Beltz boys when it comes to their elusive state championship. Their last title game appearance was in 2010. Nome last won a statewide title in 1983 as a small school state champion. That was before 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A classifications were adopted, though, and the Alaska School Activities Association’s records show their last state title coming in 1965.
“We were close back in ‘09 and ‘10 and lost by a point two years in a row so this feels super good,” Callahan said.
The Nanooks trailed for a majority of the first three quarters but were able to keep the game close by remaining stout on defense. They trailed by just a point heading into the fourth.
“We weren’t scoring baskets early but I like our defense,” Callahan said. “We just stayed with what we were doing and dug back in.”
Nome-Beltz entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed but senior Dawson Schaeffer felt like his team deserved the top seed. Thanks to his game-winning bucket that broke a 47-47 tie with 16 seconds remaining in the game, they finished on top.
“He thinks he can score every time he touches the ball and he does a lot,” Callahan said.
Schaeffer led the Nanooks in scoring the last game of his final season with a game-high 25 points.
“I feel like I can do that all the time,” Schaeffer said. “My brothers were hard on me growing up and that turned me into a dog.”
He scored double-digits in each of the team’s games in the state tournament while playing through three torn ligaments in his ankle that he suffered before the season even began. Callahan says that Schaeffer sometimes gets himself into tough situations but has a lot of respect for him for everything that he fights through.
“Our crowd gets on him a little bit because he takes some marginal shots but he wants to score and he puts a lot of pressure on the other teams defense because of his mindset,” Callahan said.
As momentous of a victory as this was the program and community as a whole, it was still somewhat bittersweet for Callahan given that it came against his longtime friend Jason Boerger, who is the head coach of Grace Christian.
The two coaches go way back to their high school playing days, when they were teammates at Seward High School under Boerger’s father Chuck Boerger, who still mentors Callahan to this day.
“His dad is my hero and my coaching mentor and has been so helpful to me,” Callahan said.
While his mentor has been there for him throughout his life and coaching career, Callahan said that it was “radio silence” between the two on Saturday ahead of the game. However, he had an idea of what the elder Boerger would’ve said to him.
“He would’ve said ‘Do what you’ve been doing, don’t mess around, don’t change anything you’re doing and do what got you here’ and he’d say the players have to get it done,” Callahan said.
He says that there is always pressure on himself and his staff to produce a good basketball team and the Nome community cares so much about the sport and team.
“They love basketball in Nome, they follow it, are very opinionated and that’s why I love Nome and want to coach,” Callahan said. “We’re used to having a big crowd and I’m just so excited for the community.”
(A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the team hadn’t won a title in 57 years.)
Alaska Boys 3A State Basketball Tournament
At Alaska Airlines Center
No. 1 Houston 58, No. 8 Mt. Edgecumbe 42
No. 4 Nome-Beltz 68, No. 5 Hutchison 39
No. 3 Valdez 52, No. 6 Homer 39
No. 2 Grace Christian 80, No. 7 Barrow 48
Mt. Edgecumbe 53, Hutchison 41
Barrow 55, Homer 46
Nome-Beltz 62, Houston 55
Grace Christian 51, Valdez 36
Mt. Edgecumbe 63, Barrow 60
Valdez 54, Houston 48
Nome-Beltz 49, Grace Christian 47