Homer’s Hannah Hatfield is defended by Kenai Central’s Logan Satathite on Friday, March 12, 2021, at the Southcentral Conference tournament at Nikiski High School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

Homer’s Hannah Hatfield is defended by Kenai Central’s Logan Satathite on Friday, March 12, 2021, at the Southcentral Conference tournament at Nikiski High School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

Kenai, Homer girls ready for state tourney

The Kenai Central and Homer girls basketball teams open play today at a Class 3A state basketball tournament unlike any other.

The tournament had to be moved from Anchorage due to coronavirus mitigation restrictions, so the state basketball tournaments are being held in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys instead.

Kenai and Homer are the only teams from the Kenai Peninsula to qualify for state this year. Both open up play at Palmer Middle School.

Kenai Central head coach Jeff Swick and Homer coach Chad Felice said they don’t even know much about the gym in which they’ll be playing.

“I think I was there for a seventh grade basketball camp,” said Swick, who grew up in Seldovia. “I can’t even remember.”

Felice has leaned on longtime Homer athletic director Chris Perk, who also has an extensive wrestling history in the state.

“I have no idea. I’ve never been there,” Felice said of the Palmer Middle School gym. “I asked our athletic director and he said it was a fairly big gym, from what he could remember, the last time he had a meet there.”

Swick doesn’t know a lot about his opponent, while Homer’s opponent is all to familiar.

The Kardinals play Southeast Conference champion Sitka at 3 p.m. Kenai (7-12 overall) earned its second state berth in three years by finishing second in the Southcentral Conference.

Swick is going to state for the first time as a coach. He went to Class 2A state as a player for the Sea Otters in 1999 and 2000.

The Kenai head coach said it’s hard to know much about Sitka because the Wolves have played Mt. Edgecumbe so much. Both schools are located on the same island in Southeast Alaska.

“When I watch the game film, I can’t tell too much,” Swick said. “I just see them playing the same team over and over again.”

Swick said his program ended the season with 15 players. He said qualifying for state hopefully will get numbers up.

“Going to state is going to help draw attention to the program,” he said. “We’ll have quite a send-off (Wednesday), as much as we can with COVID protocols, where we drive through the middle school parking lot. Those kids get to see something cool and see a developing program, and hopefully they want to be a part of that.”

Swick also said the program has been helped by getting to have a week and a half of practice before state. The basketball season got off to a late start due to the coronavirus pandemic, so games were jammed together not allowing for much practice time.

“I feel like we’ve had the time to tighten a few things up,” Swick said.

The Kardinals have two seniors — Taylor Pierce and Michal Keyes — so Swick said this will be a great way to cap their careers. Pierce actually missed the conference tournament because she was out of the state visiting colleges, so Swick said it is great to get her more time on the floor.

“For the younger kids, this will be a great experience,” Swick said. “It’s a chance to see state and give them something to shoot for as they get older.”

Freshman Emma Beck gives the Kards a scoring punch, while junior Logan Satathite provides defense and ballhandling, and sophomore Malerie Nunn has been key on defense.

Swick said team basketball is the reason the Kardinals made state, though.

“Right down the line, it’s been a team effort,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been preaching the last week and a half, ‘Remember how we got here — team basketball.’”

The Mariners open up with Anchorage Christian Schools at 8:15 p.m. The Lions are a juggernaut on the verge of moving up to Class 4A next season.

Homer (11-8 overall) was able to avoid the Lions at the Southcentral Conference tournament by earning the top seed from the Southern Division, but now meets ACS at state.

The Mariners lost to Kenai 45-30 in the Southcentral semifinals. Kenai then went on to lose to ACS 91-18 in the title game.

Homer became eligible for a lottery to get into state by defeating Redington 38-23 in the Southcentral third-place game, then won that lottery to get into state.

“It is what it is,” said Felice, who is making his third trip to state and first since taking second in 2016. “We’re going to try some things and see what we can do against them. Whatever happens, happens.

“The main thing is the girls get the experience of going to state.”

Like Swick, Felice said the extended practice time after the busy season has been nice.

In fall, the Alaska School Activities Association had to cancel the state volleyball tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic. Kenai and Homer both had strong volleyball teams.

For Kenai, Emma Beck and Erin Koziczkowski now get to play in state. Felice said Homer players Tonda Smude, Laura Inama, Hannah Hatfield and Mel Morris were all on the Homer volleyball team that won state two years ago. Bethany Engebretsen also played volleyball for Homer this year.

“Their season is going to end at the state tournament, and it’s not going to end because of COVID,” Felice said.

Inama, Hatfield and Smude are the team’s seniors. Felice said all three have been working hard four years to get to state.

“We also have a big junior class that has a lot of potential,” Felice said. “They could put in the work and possibly go back next year. It’s a very good experience for them.”

Each team is allowed 125 tickets. Both Swick and Felice said they are looking forward to having that big of a fan base in the stands after being allowed two fans per player through the whole season.

“We’re excited to have that fan base in the stands,” Swick said.

Class 3A girls state basketball tournament

Thursday’s games

Game 1 — Sitka vs. Kenai Central, 3 p.m. at Palmer Middle School

Game 2 — Monroe Catholic vs. Nome-Beltz, 4:45 p.m. at Palmer Middle School

Game 3 — Kotzebue vs. Hutchison, 6:30 p.m. at Palmer Middle School

Game 4 — Anchorage Christian vs. Homer, 8:15 p.m. at Palmer Middle School

Friday’s games

Game 5 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2 p.m. at Colony High School

Game 6 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 4 p.m. at Colony High School

Game 7 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 2 p.m. at Wasilla High School

Game 8 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 4 p.m. at Wasilla High School

Saturday’s games

Championship — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 1 p.m. at Palmer High School

More in Sports

Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Shayne Monahan controls the puck early in the third period as 1,113 fans watch Friday, March 24, 2017, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Spectator limit at sports complex drops to 250

Brown Bears move pair of games back to May

The Kenai Central high school cheerleading team. Back row, left to right: Karley Harden, Nia Calvert, Katie Stockton, Rileigh Pace and Kyrie Medina. Middle row: Karah Huff, Melena Grieme, Calani Holmes and Maya Montague. Front row: Emmalee Roney, Kaitlyn Taylor and Kori Moore. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Beddow of BeKaptured Photography)
Kenai cheerleaders nab Division II state title

The Kenai Central cheerleading team won the Division II March Madness state… Continue reading

Lydia Jacoby celebrates her commitment to the University of Texas in Seward recently. (Photo by Leslie Jacoby)
Seward’s Jacoby takes 2nd to Olympic champion

Seward junior Lydia Jacoby, 17, set a new personal record in finishing… Continue reading

Soldotna's Ezekiel Miller controls Kenai Central's Owen Whicker at 130 pounds Friday, April 9, 2021, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. Miller won by major decision, 11-1. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Wrestling: SoHi hosts Kenai; Nikiski hosts Seward, Homer

Kenai Peninsula wrestlers continued to compete in unscored dual meets Friday. The… Continue reading

AJ LaMonda
Oilers get ready for season with new GM

The Peninsula Oilers, after taking the summer of 2020 off due to… Continue reading

Bleached, dying elodea in Sandpiper Lake on Aug. 28, 2020. (Photo by Mark Laker/USFWS)
Refuge Notebook: Update on non-native species in refuge

While some planned projects at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge were put… Continue reading

Michael Armstrong is properly outfitted for an Arctic summer hiking trip in this photo taken in 1989 along the Wulik River in northeastern Alaska. (Photo by Charles Barnwell.)
Out of the Office: Living in Alaska is a lifetime in learning

From boots to parkas, there’s lots to figure out about surviving in the Last Frontier

Mariner Austin Cline, top, attempts a take down of Kardinal Owen Whicker, bottom, in a wrestling meet on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in the Alice Witte Gym at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Area wrestlers compete in duals

Kenai Peninsula wrestlers continued to participate in unscored dual meets Tuesday. The… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Brandon Lajoie (arm raised) celebrates his first-period goal Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, against the Maine Nordiques at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears cap Steel series with victory

The Kenai River Brown Bears finished 1-2 in a three-game series against… Continue reading

Most Read