Head coach Reid Kornstad and the Nikiski boys basketball program had waited since 2002 for a state berth, so what difference did a few extra days make?
After the Bulldogs did not sew up an automatic berth due to a 67-43 loss to Grace Christian at the Southcentral Conference tournament Friday, Nikiski earned a Winning Percentage Index berth to the Class 3A state tournament Sunday.
“Anytime that news came, it would have been great,” Kornstad said.
There are eight berths available to the Class 3A boys state tournament. Seven are automatic bids, while the eighth is decided by the WPI, a formula that is not made public.
Nikiski had the top WPI of all the teams that did not earn automatic bids heading into the conference tournaments, but the mystery of the WPI did not have the Bulldogs resting easy Saturday night.
“When you look at the math, it penciled out for us, but when it came down to it, we were still pretty nervous,” Kornstad said.
Kornstad, who has been coach since the 1999-2000 season except for when he took one year off, had his squad over to his house to watch the March Madness Alaska Selection Show.
When Kornstad’s second state berth as a coach was announced, the house erupted.
“We all had a pretty big reaction,” Kornstad said. “It was pretty special.”
The team has six seniors — Cade Anderson, Luke Johnson, Hunter Holloway, Sam Tauriainen, Nathan Carstens and Javon Pamplin — who will now live to fight another day.
The day will be March 24 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, when the Bulldogs take on top seed Barrow at 7:15 p.m. All state tourney games will be played at the Alaska Airlines Center this season.
Nikiski actually is the No. 7 seed by the WPI, but the Bulldogs don’t get a first-round rematch with No. 2 seed Monroe Catholic, which fell to Nikiski 58-57 on Jan. 29.
On the selection show, Isaiah Vreeman of the Alaska School Activities Association said the Bulldogs and No. 8 seed Bethel finished within .01 of each other in the WPI.
When teams are that close, the selection committee has the discretion to switch a matchup in order to avoid a conference matchup.
Since Barrow and Bethel are both in the Western Conference, the committee elected to match the Bulldogs with the Whalers, who have not lost to a Class 3A team all season.
The other Kenai Peninsula schools to qualify — Homer girls, Ninilchik girls and boys, and Nikolaevsk girls and boys — had automatic bids heading into Sunday.
Homer drew the No. 2 seed and plays No. 7 seed Grace Christian at 3:30 p.m. March 24.
The squads have met three times this season, with Homer winning 46-35 on Feb. 19, 35-34 on March 3, and Grace winning 41-38 in the Southcentral title game Saturday.
Grace coach Ward Romans, appearing on the selection show, said when teams are that familiar, it tends to lead to low-scoring, defensive battles.
The Peninsula Conference flexed its muscles on the boys side when conference champ Ninilchik earned the No. 1 seed and runner-up Nikolaevsk, which beat defending Class 1A champ Seldovia at the second-place game at the conference tourney to deny the Sea Otters a state berth, was No. 3.
Vreeman said a seeding committee determines the top four seeds in the Class 1A tournament, and the rest are randomly drawn in, with the exception coming in the case of conference rematches.
Ninilchik plays St. Mary’s at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday in the first round, while Nikolaevsk plays Akiachak at 3:30 p.m.
The Peninsula Conference girls champion Wolverines earned the No. 3 seed and play Aniak at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Peninsula runner-up Nikolaevsk is not seeded, and faces Newhalen at 5:15 p.m.