A win on the final day of the prep hoops season was the best finish the Nikiski girls could envision, save for winning a state crown.
Unknown to them until after the game, it also sent head coach Scott Anderson off on a positive note.
Following a 53-46 victory over Bethel at UAA’s Wells Fargo Complex that gave the Bulldogs fourth place at the Class 3A girls state tournament, Anderson announced that he will be retiring from coaching at Nikiski.
“I just felt like it’s time,” Anderson said. “I’ve coached a long time and I’ve been feeling a little closer to retirement for a few years now. The girls are going to need someone to give them their full attention.”
The Bulldogs led wire-to-wire in a win that capped a 2-1 state showing and a 25-6 season, including postseason games, but Anderson held his future plans to himself until after the game, opting to keep Nikiski’s attention on the task at hand. He said there is no news on who will take over for him next season.
In seven years as Nikiski girls head coach, Anderson twice finished fourth at the state tournament and on three occasions took second at the Southcentral Conference tourney, including this year. Before he took over the head coaching job, Anderson was an assistant for two years under Lee Moore.
Anderson’s coaching run goes much further back than that, however. Anderson began at Nikiski in 1991 and spent 27 years in various coaching roles with the football team as well as the basketball program.
“It’s been a blessing to work in this community,” he said. “I say (Nikiski) is Alaska’s best kept secret. The kids here have always been super coachable, they’ve always been willing to do what we ask, and the coaches have been great.”
Anderson added that he learned under the best, including Nikiski coaching greats Ward Romans and Steve Gillespie.
Saturday morning, Anderson capped his career with a victory with the Nikiski girls. Led by junior Bethany Carstens’ 26 points and 12 rebounds, the Bulldogs never trailed in capturing fourth place at state.
Carstens connected on 11 of 18 field goals, combining to shoot 60 percent from the floor over the last two days of the tournament. Carstens averaged 21.6 points and 10 rebounds over the three days, including 28.5 and 12.5 in Nikiski’s two wins.
Kelsey Clark notched seven points and five assists in the win, while senior Rylee Jackson wrapped up her high school career with three points and three boards before fouling out in the final few minutes.
Jackson said after losing the opening contest, she was happy to finish the weekend strong with two team wins.
“I’m still really proud of my team,” Jackson said. “We went out and played for each other.
“I’m a little sad it ended, but it was good.”
As the lone senior on the team, Jackson will be the only starter not returning next year, which spells good news for a Nikiski girls team seemingly set up for a run at the state title next year. Jackson said her plans next year possibly include studying for a business/accounting degree at Kenai Peninsula College.
A four-year player, Jackson swung from the JV team her first two years, then got limited varsity minutes last year before making the full-time jump to varsity this season.
“I met a lot of new friends,” she said about her four years in the basketball program. “They’ve been like another family for me.”
A fast start sparked Nikiski to the win. The Bulldogs grabbed an 11-2 lead in the first quarter thanks to hot shooting from Carstens and Clark, who had a 3-pointer to give her seven points in the first three minutes. Nikiski led 17-9 after one quarter and 30-20 at halftime, finishing the first half with sweltering 59 percent shooting.
Bethel, however, did not go away. The Warriors used a 6-0 run in the third quarter to pull within seven points, then used a few timely 3-pointers down the stretch to cut the gap to six points.
Nikiski led 42-30 with 5:44 left in the fourth and 46-34 with 2:17 left, but Bethel ripped off a 7-2 run that was capped with a steal and driving layup from Courtney Williams with 1:06 left, slashing the lead to 48-41.
Williams finished with a team-high 18 points for Bethel, including a triple with 44 seconds left that left Nikiski clinging to a 50-44 lead, but Bethel ultimately ran out of clock to pull off a rally.
Nikiski girls 48, Kotzebue 43
With the pressure off following an opening day loss to Barrow, the Nikiski girls showed up much more relaxed and prevailed Friday morning over Kotzebue in the Class 3A state tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center.
The win moved the Bulldogs into Saturday’s fourth-place game with Bethel.
With their season on the brink of elimination, the Bulldogs made sure to extend their 2018 campaign to the final day of the tournament. Nikiski scored the first six points of the game and never trailed against Kotzebue, although the Huskies were never far behind.
“Losing last night was tough,” Anderson said. “But the girls had to refocus fast. At this point, it’s about who wants to play Saturday more.”
Nikiski junior Bethany Carstens, who was held to just eight points the night before, exploded for 31 and 13 rebounds against Kotzebue, going 12 for 20 from the floor. Junior Kelsey Clark added six points and Rylee Jackson grabbed six boards.
Carstens only took eight shots on Thursday, and attributed that low number to Barrow’s aggressive face-guarding.
Carstens said with the expectations of winning state out of the equation, the team was able to play their style of game.
“I don’t know why, we were just nervous yesterday,” Carstens said. “Today we came out knowing we have to win to play on Saturday.
“We had to bring the energy.”
After missing her freshman season and last year’s state run due to injury, Carstens is finally playing in her first state tournament as a junior, and said any experience for the team at the big dance is valuable for setting up next year’s squad for a run at the championship.
“I think if we put a lot of work into the offseason, we can be there,” she said.
With an 8 a.m. tip-off time, the Bulldogs sure were sprite. Carstens hit a pair of jumpers to get Nikiski off to a 6-0 start, then added a 3-pointer to make it 9-2.
Calia Sieh answered for Kotzebue with two treys and teammate Caitlyn Conwell added a triple of her own, helping Kotzebue forge the only tie of the game early in the second quarter at 13 apiece.
Sieh led Kotzebue with 14 points, while Alanna Conwell had a big second half to finish with 12.
The Huskies trailed 17-16 with 2:47 left in the second quarter, but Nikiski finished off the first half with flair, getting a putback layup from Carstens and a steal and transition layup from Emma Wik to go up 22-16 at the half.
“We did a better job moving and cutting to the rim,” Anderson said. “We weren’t as stagnant and weren’t standing around as much.”
In the third quarter, the Bulldogs ripped off a 10-0 run with six points from Carstens, putting Nikiski up 34-19 with 3:22 left in the frame. Nikiski led 40-28 entering the fourth.
In the final quarter, the Bulldogs endured one last scare from Kotzebue. Conwell buried a 3 with 4:02 left that capped a six-point run to close the gap to 42-37.
“Their shooters are good,” Carstens said. “We had to really get out on their shooters.”
It would be as close as Kotzebue would get, however, as Carstens converted to big drives to the rim for points and brought down several key rebounds to keep the Huskies off the board.
Anderson said Nikiski will use Saturday’s game to both end the season on a high note and gain as much experience for next year.
“We’ve got to take better care of the ball tomorrow,” he said. “I told the girls, you’re going to feel a lot better about this state experience if you come out and work.”
Bulldogs 53, Warriors 46
Nikiski 17 13 6 17 —53
Bethel 9 11 10 16 —46
NIKISKI (53) — Jeffreys 0 1-2 1, Wik 1 1-2 3, L. Carstens 1 2-4 4, Bostic 0 0-0 0, Johnson 3 0-0 6, B. Carstens 11 2-2 26, Clark 3 0-2 7, Druesedow 1 0-0 3, Jackson 1 1-2 3. Totals 21 7-14 53.
BETHEL (46) — Jackson 0 0-0 0, Bukowski 1 1-2 4, Smith 1 2-2 4, Williams 7 2-2 18, Dema 1 0-0 2, Crow 4 7-7 16, Smith 0 1-2 1, Crow 0 1-2 1. Totals 14 14-17 46.
3-point goals — Nikiski 4 (B. Carstens 2, Clark 1, Druesedow 1); Bethel 4 (Williams 2, Bukowski 1, Crow 1).
Team fouls — Nikiski 12, Bethel 15. Fouled out — Jackson, Bukowski.
Bulldogs 48, Huskies 43
Kotzebue 8 8 12 15 —48
Nikiski 13 9 18 8 —43
KOTZEBUE (43) — Sieh 4 2-2 14, Martin 2 0-2 4, Schaeffer 0 0-0 0, McConnell 1 1-4 3, Conwell 3 0-6 8, Swanson 1 0-0 2, Conwell 4 3-8 12, Conwell 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 6-22 43.
NIKISKI (48) — Jeffreys 1 1-2 3, Wik 1 1-2 3, L. Carstens 0 0-0 0, Bostic 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, B. Carstens 12 5-6 31, Clark 2 2-3 6, Druesedow 1 0-0 2, Jackson 1 1-3 3. Totals 18 10-16 48.
3-point goals — Kotzebue 7 (Sieh 4, Conwell 2, Conwell 1); Nikiski 2 (B. Carstens 2).