The coin toss that determined the seeding of the top two teams in this weekend’s Southcentral Conference girls tournament could come back to play a role in who wins the title, but it’s more likely the crown will be decided by sheer guts on the court.
After finishing the regular season with identical 11-1 conference records, the Nikiski and Anchorage Christian girls had to be separated by the aforementioned coin flip. The Lions were the lucky recipient of the outcome, and therefore received a first-round bye at the tournament. ACS will begin play Friday at 6 p.m. against the winner of Thursday’s noon game featuring No. 5 Seward and No. 4 Houston.
Nikiski, on the other hand, will have to start today with a 6 p.m. matchup against the No. 7 seed Redington, which should not be too difficult. The Bulldogs silenced the Huskies this year with scores of 57-15 and 48-16.
It’s the rest of the tourney schedule that may give the host team trouble. A potential semifinal battle on Friday could pit Nikiski against Grace Christian, the defending region champions. Grace would have to beat sixth-seeded Homer today to set up the matchup.
Grace gave Nikiski two tough tests this season, both of which the Bulldogs passed — Nikiski won both games by a combined six points — but a third meeting against the Grizzlies and former Nikiski coach Ward Romans will surely take every ounce of cunning from the Bulldogs.
From there, a potential title clash against ACS lies in wait for Nikiski. In their first meeting on Feb. 25 at home, the Bulldogs lost 62-56 in a game that was missing key starter Kelsey Clark, who sustained an injury the previous day, and star player Bethany Carstens, who fouled out late in the game with Nikiski leading by one point.
However, the Bulldogs returned the favor one week later by toppling ACS 64-59 on the road, this time with Clark and Carstens playing the duration of the contest.
Carstens has averaged 20.9 points per game for the Bulldogs this year, or 40 percent of Nikiski’s scoring offense. Carstens missed her entire freshman campaign to a preseason injury, but has made up for it with an unparalleled ferocity. The next highest scorer on the team is Clark at 6.9 points.
When Carstens is grabbing the attention from opposing teams, the Bulldogs have been able to get support from Clark, Emma Wik and Avery Kornstad.
Wik has been turning up the wick as of late. In Nikiski’s late-season win over ACS, Wik buried seven 3-pointers to score a season-high 27 points.
The Bulldogs have also been getting value under the rim in their senior class, as Ayla Pitt has been bringing down six rebounds per game and Kornstad has been hitting 70 percent at the free throw line.
Thursday’s other opening day matchups include No. 5 Seward against No. 4 Houston in a 12 p.m. meeting. The winner plays Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal against No. 1 seed ACS.
The Seahawks finished their NLC slate at 5-7, including a 53-41 road victory over Houston Feb. 18. In their only other meeting of the season, Houston escaped with a 34-32 win over Seward.
One year after going 21-1 in the regular season and making it to the Class 3A girls state championship game, the Homer girls have suffered through a down year after losing most of their senior starters. The team only won twice this year, both wins over Redington, and enter this weekend’s tournament as the sixth seed with a 3 p.m. matchup today against defending region champions Grace Christian. The winner will move on to play in Friday’s 3 p.m. semifinal.
Homer had trouble playing Grace this year, with a 47-18 road loss and a 53-18 loss at home to show for it.
In the boys tournament, it is much clearer who the top team is. The Grace Christian Grizzlies routed the conference competition with a sterling 12-0 mark, beating their opponents by an average of 24.5 points, and finished the year with 20 overall victories.
Among the craftiest and quickest guards in the state, Grace junior Tobin Karlberg presents a monstrous challenge to any opposing team. Karlberg’s stunning shooting accuracy and ability to carve up a defensive set gave opponents fits this year.
When Karlberg is being double-teamed, it only leaves to open looks for Grace’s other threats, which include big man Brogan Nieder and guard Jimmy McGovern.
As the top seed in the boys tournament, Grace Christian will receive a bye today while they wait for a winner between fourth-seeded Homer and fifth-seeded Seward at 1:30 p.m. today. The winner of that game will face Grace in Friday’s 4:30 p.m. boys semifinal.
Homer clinched the No. 4 seed with a 6-6 conference record, while Seward finished at 4-8. The Mariners won both contests against the Seahawks this year, with a 56-51 win on the road and a 53-38 win at home, but neither team has seen each other in over six weeks.
However, since a victory over Nikiski on Feb. 21, Homer has been in a backslide, losing five straight games, including losses to Grace, ACS and Houston. The Seahawks enter the weekend having won two of their last three.
The host Nikiski boys begin their tournament tonight at 7:30 p.m. with a clash against No. 3 Houston. The winner advances to Friday’s 7:30 p.m. semifinal.
The 2-20 Nikiski boys returned one regular starter from last year’s statebound Bulldogs squad, sophomore Jace Kornstad. Everyone else has had to learn and grow through this rebuilding year. The Bulldogs have been able to score with Kornstad’s 3-point game and junior Ian Johnson’s post game, but the wins have still been far and few between, with just two victories over Redington to show this year.
The Bulldogs went 0-2 against Houston this year, with scores of 59-44 at home and 58-39 on the road.