Cook Inlet Academy’s Abraham Henderson drives to the basket against Birchwood Christian on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at Cook Inlet Academy near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Cook Inlet Academy’s Abraham Henderson drives to the basket against Birchwood Christian on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at Cook Inlet Academy near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

CIA girls, boys sweep Birchwood Christian

The Cook Inlet Academy girls and boys basketball teams hope to break state tournament droughts by running through the Peninsula Conference this season.

The host Eagles girls and boys swept Birchwood Christian on Saturday to open conference play and both CIA teams were at their best when the pace was the highest.

The Eagles girls topped Birchwood Christian 50-39 and the Eagles boys topped the Warriors 64-23 as both CIA squads moved to 8-2 overall.

Eagles girls head coach Josh Hawley is in his sixth season with the team and is looking to make his second trip to state.

The only time Hawley went to state was in 2019. In 2020, the Eagles earned a berth only to have the tournament canceled by the pandemic.

In 2021, CIA finished second in the league. Normally, that’s enough for a state berth, but the Peninsula Conference got just one state berth that year due to the pandemic.

Last year, Birchwood Christian knocked the Eagles from state contention. Hawley said beating the Warriors was a big step to finally making a return to state. The coach said he thinks the Eagles and Lumen Christi are the top teams in the league right now. The Peninsula Conference gets two berths to state.

“We’re shooting for state,” Hawley said. “And I think we have a state-bound team. I think we could do some damage at state this year.”

Hawley would especially like to get a berth for seniors Danielle Smith, Kaitlyn Liles and Tatum Rozak, who have never been to state and lost those two berths to the pandemic.

Rozak played a big role in the victory over Birchwood. CIA led 18-8 at halftime, but when the Warriors started to cut into the lead in the third period, Rozak scored 13 of her 15 points in the third quarter to give CIA a 40-27 lead headed to the fourth.

Rozak got most of her points in transition after Birchwood turnovers. Hawley said that’s the way his team loves to play.

“I joke around and say they’re thoroughbreds,” he said. “They’re made to run, you’re not going to make them walk.

“So when you get them out here, they’re chomping on the bit. They want to run and get after it. They don’t want to pull back.”

Sophomores Ella Rollman and Hope Hillyer also have height and love to run the floor. Rollman had 20 while Hillyer had nine.

Also for CIA, sophomore Beka Dillingham had four and sophomore Kristy Stoll had two.

Hawley said it takes depth to get to state and have success there. In order to create depth, he’s started coaching physical education at Cook Inlet Academy to teach the fundamentals early.

“We’re only as good as our weakest link,” Hawley said. “If you’re not getting them to lock in, you can’t expect them to be there when regions come.”

For Birchwood, Ella Phillips had 23, Annemarie Weihrich had eight, Lanie Brisson had six and Elise Becker had two.

In the boys game, CIA head coach Ben McGarry showcased the running style that he hopes will get the Eagles their first state berth since 2012, when CIA was in Class 2A. McGarry said Birchwood is looking like one of the top teams in the league this season.

“So this year’s team has a really good shot to win regions and go to state and be competitive,” McGarry said of his squad.

The coach said the team’s style was apparent from the first practice.

“Right from the start, I had three or four guys who played soccer,” McGarry said. “I’m like, ‘We’ve got a soccer team, they know how to run and move.’

“And I have a couple guys who didn’t play soccer, but like to play fast.”

The Eagles also don’t have a lot of bulk.

“I told them the first practice, ‘We’re not as brawny, we’re not as big as some teams, but we’re fast. If you guys utilize that to your advantage, you’ll create great opportunities for easy baskets,” McGarry said.

CIA did just that against Birchwood. The Warriors trailed just 11-9 after the first quarter after successfully pounding the ball down low and using their size.

The Eagles then started creating turnovers with their press and getting out on the fast break and led 27-15 at the half and 50-17 after three quarters. McGarry said junior Jeremiah Dillingham was a big catalyst in the second quarter, getting steals and scoring all of his four points.

Ian McGarry, a sophomore, got most of his 27 points in layups off transition. Abraham Henderson, the only senior on the team, scored 10.

Coach McGarry said Henderson plays a unique role. He the tallest and strongest player for the Eagles, so he guards the opposing team’s center. But on offense, he plays shooting guard to take advantage of his ability to drive and either finish or make a great pass.

“It’s kind of different, but it’s just the skill set he has and it’s going to work for us this year,” coach McGarry said.

Alek McGarry, a freshman, added eight for the Eagles.

“We’ve got a really good supporting cast that I just rotate through, and they play hard defense and hit shots,” coach McGarry said. “We saw some of that tonight, which was really fun for those guys.”

Brady Baeten had five for CIA, while Trent Waller had three, Owen Braband, Brandt Rollman and Austin Sorhus had two, and Dmitry Marlowe had one.

Cook Inlet Academy’s Alek McGarry battles for a rebound against Birchwood Christian on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at Cook Inlet Academy just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Cook Inlet Academy’s Alek McGarry battles for a rebound against Birchwood Christian on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at Cook Inlet Academy just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Cook Inlet Academy’s Tatum Rozak dribbles against Birchwood Christian’s Eden Becker on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at Cook Inlet Academy near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Cook Inlet Academy’s Tatum Rozak dribbles against Birchwood Christian’s Eden Becker on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at Cook Inlet Academy near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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