The Cook Inlet Academy girls basketball team took fifth place in the Class 1A state basketball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage after losing 53-47 to Buckland on Saturday.
The fifth-place finish is the best in coach Josh Hawley’s six seasons and also is the best finish for the program since the Eagles won the state title in 2013.
Hawley said this season represented a big step forward for the culture of his program. It also gave the coach a good idea of steps the team needs to be making to keep getting better.
At the beginning of the season, Hawley asked the team to reflect on what it means in scripture to be known for love of one another.
“We started to have that,” Hawley said. “We struggled with that before, but we didn’t have drama this year.
“I’m not saying we had that in years past, but this team really started to show love for one another on the court.”
At the same time, as the team advanced further than any of Hawley’s previous teams, the coach said a lack of situational awareness showed itself.
For example, when a team is shooting shots from really far out, the rebounds will no longer happen close to the basket. And when you are behind late in the game, you must foul as quickly as possible.
Hawley also said playing man-to-man defense would have helped with the long rebounds, but his team didn’t have much experience playing that defense.
“I didn’t adapt my coaching style to fit some of those teams and their different shot selection,” Hawley said.
That said, Hawley said the season was a definite success.
“After that last game, there was tears because everybody wants to reach that ultimate goal of winning the state title, and we were just a breath away from it,” Hawley said. “From talking to the girls afterward, they were just elated to have had that experience.”
The Eagles grabbed an 18-7 lead after the first quarter and still led 25-20 at halftime. Buckland grabbed a 38-35 lead at the end of the third quarter with CIA’s Tatum Rozak battling foul trouble. Buckland was then able to keep the lead in the fourth quarter, with a CIA run stalling when Rozak fouled out.
The key for Buckland was getting more shots up than CIA. Cook Inlet shot 38% from the floor, while Buckland was at 28%. But Buckland took 74 shots to the 50 of Cook Inlet Academy.
The Eagles actually won the rebound battle 46-42, but CIA had 29 turnovers of Buckland’s 17.
Despite the foul trouble, Rozak ended her Eagles career on a solid note, leading the team with 20 points and going 9 of 13 from the floor while snagging seven rebounds.
Hope Hillyer had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Eagles, while Ella Rollman had eight points and 13 rebounds, and Clara Warren had two points.
Ava Jones pumped in 25 points for Buckland.
In addition to Rozak, the Eagles lose seniors Danielle Smith and Kaitlyn Liles.
Hawley also thanked assistants Trevor Rollman, Wade Liles and Kara Hawley for coming to 6 a.m. practices and making life a lot easier for the head coach.
From CIA, Tatum Rozak made the girls all-state all-tournament team, while Ian McGarry earned the nod for the boys.