Not being able to play basketball her freshman year of high school gave Nikiski sophomore Bethany Carstens a lot of time to prepare for her debut season on varsity.
The quick and agile guard has made the most of her time with the Bulldogs this year, averaging 16 points per game to lead the team to a 5-1 overall record.
“Right now, we’re all pretty solid,” Carstens said. “I know we can bring something back to Nikiski that hasn’t happened in a long time, we’ve just got to stick together.”
Friday night, Carstens once again paved the way to victory as Nikiski drubbed Southcentral Conference opponent Redington 57-15.
Carstens scored 14 points — all in three quarters — to lead the Bulldogs. Emma Wik added 13 points and Kaitlyn Johnson chipped in 10.
Carstens missed her freshman campaign with an ACL tear she sustained before the hoops season began, but helped ease her transition into prep basketball after her injury by competing in outside tournaments and programs in the summer. Nikiski head coach Scott Anderson said Carstens is a clear leader on the team, even as an underclassmen, because of her commitment. Friday night, Carstens shared the team captain role with senior Avery Kornstad.
“She puts in more time working on it than anyone I know,” Anderson said. “She works an hour every morning before school, then has practice with the team after.”
With the addition of Carstens, the Bulldogs — currently ranked third in the Alaska coaches poll — have had a fuller squad this year, which has helped them to a strong start. The lone loss for Nikiski came Jan. 5 against Class 4A school Kenai Central, a 48-44 contest.
Anderson said Friday that he believes his team is currently running at 50 percent capacity, a scary thought for conference competition.
“The Kenai game showed us that we still have work to do,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement.”
Friday at Nikiski, the Bulldogs took off running and never looked back in the blowout win. Nikiski opened up a 17-4 lead by the end of the first quarter, then pushed it to 32-10 at halftime. Carstens had 10 points herself by the midway break. Wik enjoyed a seven-point showing the second quarter alone to give Nikiski a boost.
All game long, Redington, a team in only its second year of varsity basketball, struggled to break through Nikiski’s fierce defensive press. Junior co-captain Courtney Crockett led the Huskies with seven points.
“Redington is making big strides every time we play them,” Anderson said. “Tonight we just tried to move our feet on defense and limit them to one shot per possession.”
In the third quarter, the Bulldogs expanded upon their lead with numerous buckets in transition off of turnovers and steals. Wik, Johnson and Carstens at one point led a 12-0 run to push the lead to 34 points.
Nikiski contained Redington in the second half to just five points, including just a single free throw point in the fourth quarter, which featured a running clock.
Nikiski boys 65, Redington 24
As part of last year’s state-bound contingent, sophomore Jace Kornstad knows what it takes to form a winning team.
After losing most of their starting lineup and senior leadership core to graduation, the Nikiski boys have basically had to start from scratch this year, as an 0-for-5 streak to start the season demonstrates.
“We played Houston (Thursday) and competed exceptionally well,” Kornstad said about Thursday’s 59-44 loss. “Even with the loss, I feel like we definitely got better. So far, I think we’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.”
The Bulldogs, however, recorded their first win of the year Friday night at Nikiski High with a dominant victory over Redington.
Kornstad played a sixth-man role as a freshman with the 2015 senior-laden Bulldogs squad, a team that finished third in the Southcentral Conference and won a game at state.
This year, the sharpshooting guard has stepped up into a much bigger role with the team, something that he said he is comfortable with.
“You only feel as much pressure as you put on yourself,” he said.
Friday night, Kornstad connected on three 3-pointers to finish with 15 points.
Kornstad’s coach and father, Reid, said Thursday’s loss to Houston — a close game that Nikiski lost in the third quarter — added extra incentive for Nikiski to go out and take command of a game.
“Last night was pretty draining,” Reid said. “We came out a little flat today, but the pressing was needed. I was happy with the way the guys responded.”
Ian Johnson scored a game-high 18 points to lead Nikiski, while Cody Handley added 17.
“Cody stepped up,” Jace said. “He hit some 3’s, got fouled, hit his free throws, and had some inside post moves. If you can do that, you’ll be pretty good.”
Redington held brief leads in the opening minutes of the game, but Nikiski soon clamped down with a tough defensive press, hassling the Huskies with turnovers. In the final 4:36 of the first quarter, Nikiski poured in 12 unanswered points from Kornstad and Johnson alone, growing its lead to 15-4. The duo was particularly deadly from the baseline, hitting three shots from the edge.
A steal and a layup by Handley in the first 10 seconds of the second quarter set the stage for another barrage of points. Handley sunk a triple from the top of the race at the 6:12 mark, and Garrett Ellis put back a layup on an offensive rebound with 2:23 to go to push the lead to 27-8.
Another outback by Johnson with 30 seconds left until the half put Nikiski up 29-9.
The Bulldogs assaulted the Huskies with 27 points in the third quarter, 21 of those coming from the trio of Johnson, Handley and Kornstad. A corner shot from Kornstad with 3:58 left in the third quarter put Nikiski up 40-10, leaving no doubt who the winner would be.
Bulldogs 57, Huskies 15
Redington 4 6 4 1 — 15
Nikiski 17 15 16 9 — 57
REDINGTON (15) — Koozata 2 0-0 4, Lytle 0 0-0 0, Crockett 2 3-4 7, Smith-Surratt 0 0-0 0, Aparazuk 0 0-0 0, Harris 0 0-0 0, Fuller 2 0-0 4, Kuzmin 0 0-0 0, Horne 0 0-0 0. Totals 6 3-4 15.
NIKISKI (57) — Jeffreys 1 0-0 2, Wik 6 0-0 13, Pitt 0 0-0 0, Vollertsen 1 0-0 2, Johnson 5 0-0 10, Carstens 7 0-0 14, Kornstad 1 0-0 3, Jackson 2 2-2 6, Porter 0 0-0 0, Bostic 0 4-4 4, Druesedow 1 1-2 3. Totals 24 7-8 57.
3-point goals — Redington 0; Nikiski 2 (Kornstad 1, Wik 1).
Team fouls — Redington 8; Nikiski 10. Fouled out — none.
Bulldogs 65, Huskies 24
Redington 4 5 7 8 — 24
Nikiski 15 14 27 9 — 65
REDINGTON (24) — Rogers 1 0-0 2, Straughn 2 0-0 4, Amirault 4 0-0 8, Rumfelt 4 0-0 8, Brooks 0 2-5 2, Long 0 0-1 0, Spott 0 0-0 0, King 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 2-6 24.
NIKISKI (65) — Johnson 7 4-6 18, Weathers 1 0-0 3, G. Ellis 2 2-2 7, Kornstad 6 0-0 15, Handley 7 1-2 17, B. Ellis 0 3-4 3, DeSiena 1 0-0 2, Bridges 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 10-13 65.
3-point goals — Redington 0; Nikiski 7 (Kornstad 3, Handley 2, Ellis 1, Weathers 1).
Team fouls — Redington 11; Nikiski 13. Fouled out — Ellis