Nikiski senior Ian Johnson (10) corrals a loose ball Friday night against Monroe Catholic at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in Nikiski. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski senior Ian Johnson (10) corrals a loose ball Friday night against Monroe Catholic at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in Nikiski. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski honors Hitchcock at Tip-Off tourney

The mark of a man’s life is often said to be the legacy he leaves behind after he is gone.

Rus Hitchcock left behind a lasting impact on the lives of countless youth in the Nikiski and Kenai communities, and to honor him, the Nikiski basketball program stuck his name onto its annual January tournament, which was won Saturday by the Nikiski girls and Kenai Central boys.

Named in honor of him, the 29th Annual Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament ramped up Thursday at Nikiski High School for a three-day weekend of games, and the memory of Hitchcock was alive and thriving in those who knew him best.

“Simply put, (his legacy) is one of hard work and togetherness,” said Nikiski boys head coach Reid Kornstad. “He loved to share a common goal with people and go after it.”

Hitchcock suffered a heart attack while driving July 3, 2017, and eventually passed away Oct. 26 at age 54.

Hitchcock had been a strong presence in the Nikiski hoops program since 2002, serving as the boys C-Team coach and assisting with the JV and varsity teams as well, and had spent all his years working with Kornstad and girls coach Scott Anderson at the school in developing young talent and, most importantly, stirring up a passion for the sport with a gusto nearly unmatched.

“Rus was a giver,” Anderson said. “Just a class guy, he was always there for you to give you a bear hug.

“He was the face of Nikiski basketball in a lot of ways.”

A Minnesota native, Hitchcock made his way to Alaska in 1983, where he started his own family and raised three children. His son, Rustin, is a 2003 Nikiski graduate and currently serves as a varsity assistant on the boys team.

Rustin said he felt honored to see his father’s name displayed on the tournament program.

“We know how much time he put into the program,” Hitchcock said, mentioning that Rus also spent countless hours coaching at the Boys &Girls Club. “He’d get off work at 5:30 and be coaching, he’d drive up to Anchorage for games, he helped out at the middle school.

“He always encouraged kids to get in the gym, he was recruiting them basically.”

Although in his first year officially helping with the Nikiski boys program, Rustin Hitchcock has already made waves in the community, coaching the Cook Inlet Academy girls team to the Class 1A state championship in 2013.

It was after that title game, a triple-overtime finish against peninsula rival Nikolaevsk, that Rustin said he shared his finest moment with his father, who was always there to support his son.

“After we won, I went through the postgame stuff with my team, and the first two people I see are my wife (Becca) and dad,” Hitchcock recalled. “Those were the two best hugs I’ve ever had.”

As a further testimony to the type of influence Rus had in inspiring youth athletes, his son Rustin is one of three former Nikiski players that have since joined Kornstad’s boys program on the bench. Rustin shares assistant coaching duties with 2002 grad David Holloway and 2012 grad Colton Anderson.

The Bulldogs girls wrapped up the title with a 44-33 victory over Service. Nikiski led 12-8 after the first quarter and 22-17 at halftime. Service cut the lead to 28-25 after three quarters, but the Bulldogs pulled away with a 16-8 advantage in the fourth.

Bethany Carstens, the tournament MVP, had 13 points to pace Nikiski, while Emma Wik pitched in 12. For the Cougars, Katie Pearce had 13 and Gabrielle Broek added 10.

Kenai Central wrapped up the boys title by topping Nikiski 55-44 on Saturday. The Kards led 11-9 after the first quarter, then 30-21 and halftime.

For the Kardinals, Luke Beiser poured in 26 points, while Preben Strende added 13 to the ledger. Jace Kornstad had 19 for the Bulldogs, while Noah Litke had 10 points.

Friday at the Tip-Off tournament, the Nikiski teams came away with a split against Monroe Catholic, with the girls dominating the Rams 50-13 and boys taking a 74-38 loss.

In other games Friday, the Service girls beat Redington 38-35 and the Kenai boys topped Redington 48-23.

Saturday, the Monroe girls wrapped up second place at the tournament with a 35-23 victory over Redington. Monroe’s Grace Hodges had 24 points to lead all scorers. The Monroe boys defeated Redington 65-35 to also finish second, with tournament MVP Gavin Jackson pouring in 29 points to lead the way, and Izak Lohrke adding 12. Brody Brooks had 17 points to lead Redington.

The Monroe boys stamped their authority over Nikiski on Friday by raining down 3-pointers. The Rams connected on a whopping 16 shots from downtown, led by the five from Isaac Garcia, who finished with 16 points. Izak Lohrke scored a game-high 19 points for Monroe with three 3s, and Gavin Jackson chipped in 13 points with two treys.

A night after scoring an exhilarating 36 points, Nikiski junior Jace Kornstad was held to 10 points. Cody Handley led the Bulldogs with 15 points Friday.

Monroe was also without one of its top starters in junior Divon Davis, leading Kornstad to label the Rams as a team to watch for at the state tournament in March.

“I think every one of their players hit a three, including their coaches,” Kornstad quipped. “That’s a super quality team.”

Garcia buried four 3-pointers in the first quarter to spark Monroe to a 27-7 lead, and the rout was on. The Rams led 45-17 in the final minute of the second half and was able to maintain the large gap to the end.

In the girls game, junior Bethany Carstens controlled the proceedings with 26 points to lead the Bulldogs, hitting four 3s along the way to outscore the entire Monroe girls squad by double.

Nikiski’s offense got off to the slow start, leading 18-8 at halftime, but Anderson said once the girls relaxed and got into a rhythm, the points came pouring in.

“We were able to move the ball easier,” Anderson said. “To score 50 on a (Monroe coach) Frank Ostanik team is something. He’s a great coach and I’m pleased with that.”

Carstens hit consecutive treys in the third quarter, part of an 11-0 scoring run by herself that bolstered Nikiski’s lead to 29-8 and eventually 37-13 by the end of the quarter.

While a nonconference contest, the win was important as it will be used in the WPI standings that could determine Nikiski’s fate in qualifying to state at the end of the season, as Monroe is a Class 3A opponent.

It also came as a crucial time as the Bulldogs are dealing with the loss of junior Kelsey Clark. Clark is a significant starter who suffered a knee injury in a game against Redington on Jan. 12. Anderson said Clark is expected to return in “a matter of weeks,” which would likely see her back before the conference tournament in early March.

“It’s been a huge adjustment,” Anderson said about Clark’s absence. “She’s been playing really well and the other girls have been working hard to make up the difference.”

In Kenai’s victory over Redington, Luke Beiser led the Kardinals with 20 points.

Brody Brooks had 14 points for Redington.

29th annual Nikiski Tip Off Tournament

Boys MVP — Gavin Jackson, Monroe Catholic.

Girls MVP — Bethany Carstens, Nikiski.

Boys sportsmanship award — Redington.

Girls sportsmanship award — Redington.

Boys all-tournament team — Izak Lohrke, Monroe; Luke Beiser, Kenai; Brody Brooks, Redington, Jace Kornstad, Nikiski; Preben Strende, Kenai.

Girls all-tournament team — Courtney Crockett, Redington; Katie Pearce, Service; Grace Hodges, Monroe; Rylee Jackson, Nikiski; Madi Leslie, Monroe.

Boys free-throw champ — Michael Eiter, Nikiski.

Girls free-throw champ — Katie Pearce, Service.

Boys 3-point champ — Jace Kornstad, Nikiski.

Girls 3-point champ — Emma Wik, Nikiski.

Boys hot shot competition — Redington.

Girls hot shot competition — Nikiski.

Boys post-up competition — Quinn McHenry, Monroe.

Girls post-up competition — Kaycee Bostic, Nikiski.

Boys scrappy award — Gavin Jackson, Monroe.

Girls scrappy award — Courtney Crockett, Redington.

Friday girls

Bulldogs 50, Rams 13

Monroe 6 2 5 0 —13

Nikiski 11 7 19 13 —50

MONROE (13) — Hodges 1 2-2 4, Grahek 1 0-0 2, Nelson 1 0-0 2, Leslie 2 1-2 5, Batts 0 0-0 0, Szumigala 0 0-0 0, Batts 0 0-0 0, Stepovich 0 0-0 0, Thomas 0 0-0 0. Totals 5 3-4 13.

NIKISKI (50) — Jeffreys 1 0-0 2, Wik 1 0-0 3, L. Carstens 0 1-2 1, Bostic 0 0-0 0, Johnson 4 0-2 8, B. Carstens 9 4-7 26, Epperheimer 0 0-0 0, Druesedow 3 0-2 6, Jackson 2 0-0 4, Glaves 0 0-0 0, Zimmerman 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 5-13 50.

3-point goals — Monroe 0; Nikiski 5 (B. Carstens 4, Wik 1).

Team fouls — Monroe 8, Nikiski 8. Fouled out — none.

Friday boys

Rams 74, Bulldogs 38

Monroe 27 18 18 11 —74

Nikiski 7 12 13 6 —38

MONROE (74) — Lohrke 6 4-6 19, Bast 4 0-0 9, Ortiz 2 0-0 5, Garcia 5 1-2 16, Jackson 4 3-4 13, Puryear 0 0-0 0, Justice 1 0-0 3, McHenry 2 0-0 6, Silas 0 0-0 0, Clark 0 0-0 0, Clarkson 1 0-0 3. Totals 25 8-12 74.

NIKISKI (38) — Johnson 2 0-1 4, Weathers 0 0-0 0, Ellis 2 0-0 4, Kornstad 4 0-0 10, T. Litke 1 0-0 3, Handley 6 2-5 15, N. Litke 1 0-0 2, Mysing 0 0-0 0, DeSiena 0 0-2 0, Bridges 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, Eiter 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 2-8 38.

3-point goals — Monroe 16 (Garcia 5, Lohrke 3, Jackson 2, McHenry 2, Bast 1, Ortiz 1, Justice 1, Clarkson 1); Nikiski 4 (Kornstad 2, T. Litke 1, Handley 1).

Team fouls — Monroe 8, Nikiski 9. Fouled out — none.

Kardinals 48, Huskies 23

Redington 6 6 8 3 — 23

Kenai 6 19 9 14 — 48

REDINGTON (23) — Falaniko 1 1-2 3, Straughn 0 0-0 0, Elliot 0 0-0 0, Amirault 0 1-2 1, Brooks 5 4-5 14, Conaway 1 0-0 3, Norris 1 0-1 2. Totals — 8 6-10 23.

KENAI CENTRAL (48) — R. Riddall 3 0-0 6, Efta 2 0-0 4, Felchle 2 0-0 5, Baker 2 0-0 4, Tuttle 1 0-0 2, Beiser 8 4-4 20, Goodman 1 1-3 3, Trujillo 0 0-0 0, Strende 2 0-0 4. Totals — 21 5-7 48.

3-point goals — Redington 1 (Conaway); Kenai 1 (Felchle). Team fouls — Redington 8, Kenai 14. Fouled out — none.

Saturday girls

Bulldogs 44, Cougars 33

Service 8 9 8 8 — 33

Nikiski 12 10 6 16 — 44

SERVICE (33) — Stoddard 0 0-0 0, Foma’i 0 0-0 0, Noethlich 2 0-0 4, Crutcher 0 0-0 0, Broek 5 0-0 10, Pearce 5 2-4 13, Ropati 0 0-0 0, Aukustino 1 0-0 2, Noland 1 1-2 4, Meyers 0 0-0 0. Totals — 14 3-6 33.

NIKISKI (44) — Jeffreys 1 0-0 2, Wik 3 4-6 12, L. Carstens 2 1-4 5, Bostic 1 4-7 6, Johnson 0 0-2 0, B. Carstens 2 8-8 13, Druesdow 0 0-0 0, Jackson 3 1-2 6. Totals — 12 17-29 44.

3-point goals — Service 2 (Pearce, Noland); Team fouls — Service 22, Nikiski 12. Fouled out — Ropati.

Saturday boys

Kardinals 55, Bulldogs 44

Kenai 11 19 12 13 — 55

Nikiski 9 12 8 15 — 44

KENAI CENTRAL (55) — R. Riddall 2 1-2 6, Felchle 0 2-2 2, Baker 1 2-2 4, Tuttle 0 0-0 0, Beiser 10 6-13 26, Goodman 2 0-0 4, Trujillo 0 0-0 0, Strende 5 1-2 13. Totals — 20 12-21 55.

NIKISKI (44) — Johnson 2 0-0 4, Weathers 1 0-0 2, Ellis 0 0-0 0, Kornstad 7 1-1 19, T. Litke 0 0-0 0, Handley 2 4-6 9, N. Litke 3 3-4 10, DeSiena 0 0-0 0, Eiter 0 0-0 0. Totals — 15 8-11 44.

3-point goals — Kenai 3 (Strende 2, R. Riddall); Nikiski 6 (Kornstad 4, Handley, N. Litke). Team fouls — Kenai 13, Nikiski 17. Fouled out — none.

Nikiski junior Cody Handley (center) dives for the ball with Monroe’s Gavin Jackson (right) Friday night at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in Nikiski. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski junior Cody Handley (center) dives for the ball with Monroe’s Gavin Jackson (right) Friday night at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in Nikiski. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski freshman Lillian Carstens looks for the rim against Monroe’s Grace Hodges (left) Friday night at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in Nikiski. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski freshman Lillian Carstens looks for the rim against Monroe’s Grace Hodges (left) Friday night at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in Nikiski. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski sophomore America Jeffreys (2) works for a rebound against Monroe’s Grace Hodges Friday night at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in Nikiski. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski sophomore America Jeffreys (2) works for a rebound against Monroe’s Grace Hodges Friday night at the Rus Hitchcock Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in Nikiski. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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