The Tikigaq high school boys and girls basketball teams both opened the 2023 Great Alaska 2A Conference tournament with resounding wins over Dillingham on Wednesday night at Grace Christian School.
While each game ended with lopsided victories in their favor, they were missing a familiar element.
Last year’s regional tourney felt like a home away from home for the Harpooners.
Their passionate fanbase consisting of friends, family, and classmates made the trip up from the small community of Point Hope and packed the gymnasium at Grace Christian on game days to cheer on both teams as they cruised to regional titles and punched tickets to state.
Due to a storm that prevented a large contingent of supporters and even four members from each team from making the trip, this year likely won’t have quite the same homecourt advantage feeling.
“We had a hard time getting here with the weather, and we’re just happy to be here and be able to participate in the regionals,” Tikigaq girls coach Ramona Rock said. “Our plane was full of ice, and we were circling trying to land in Kotzebue before getting to Anchorage.”
Both teams were in jeopardy of missing Wednesday’s games as a result of ice fog and and freezing rain but were fortunate enough to find a flight that was able to get them to Anchorage in enough time.
“We were supposed to get in (Thursday) morning, but Bering Air looked out (for an alternative) and got us a 19-seater from Kotzebue to here, so we were able to make it in,” said Joelian Lane, a senior on the boys team.
They’re hoping to have more of their fans filling the stands for the teams’ next games on Friday, but that’s not a guarantee either.
“A lot of people have been stuck in Point Hope and have been trying to get out the past week, but it’s been gusting up 65-mile-an-hour winds,” boys head coach Teddy Frankson said. “I think there’s no open flights until the 10th, and that’s just for Alaska Airlines.”
Despite being forced to play with just eight players, the girls were still able to overwhelm Dillingham from start to finish in the first game of the late-night doubleheader that had a tipoff at 7:45 p.m.
“We expect a lot out of them and the girls work extra hard,” Rock said.
The reigning 2A state champions opened the game with a blazing 22-0 run and were on the verge of pitching a shutout in the first quarter before the Wolverines managed to get on the board with a pair of free throws in the final 64 seconds.
“I feel like they’re in better shape than they were last year, so that helps a lot,” Rock said. “They know they have a big target on their back coming into regionals so they have to prove it every time they step on the court.”
Their suffocating full-court press defense is an area that the team emphasized improving more than offense this year during their title defense.
According to Tikigaq girls team members, it has made life miserable for opponents trying to get into a rhythm or simply score enough points to keep pace this season.
“We focus on it more because defense wins championships, and (we) know that we have our offense down, so in practice we work on defense all the time,” senior Jadyn Lane said.
The Harpooners would take a 48-7 lead into halftime and didn’t allow Dillingham to reach double figures in points until there were less than two minutes left in the third period.
There was a running clock for most of the second half as they cruised to a 78-13 win to advance to Friday’s championship game.
The Harpooners had five different players reach double figures in scoring, led by Lane with a game-high 19 points followed by sophomore Jennifer Nash with 18 points. Both could’ve easily scored more than 20 points but opted to let their teammates shine by dishing the ball to them to record several assists.
“We’re not selfish players,” Nash said. “We just play as a team.”
Their counterparts on the boys side executed an identical game plan and yielded similar results with a 67-17 victory in their first game action after more than a month off.
“We played all our games early on in the season, had a long break, and it felt good to be back on the court,” Frankson said.
The Tikigaq boys opened the game with a 12-0 run and never let Dillingham reduce the deficit on the scoreboard to a single-digit margin.
The Harpooners allowed just a single successful field goal attempt in the first quarter, which came from behind the arc. The only point the Wolverines could manage in the fourth quarter came on a free throw attempt.
“I was proud with how they responded after a long break,” Frankson said. “We came out strong and controlled the whole game. That’s what I preach to them — show dominance on offense, defense, rebounding throughout the whole game.”
The Harpooners boys team had four players record double figures in scoring and were led by Joelian Lane, who had nearly half of the team’s total points through the first three quarters. Lane finished with a game-high 25 points but still wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“(I had) too many fouls and could’ve done a lot better,” he said.
To clinch a berth in next week’s 2A state tournament, both teams will need to either win on Friday against the Unalakleet Wolfpack boys and girls or come out on top in Saturday night’s play-in game.