This is a week that Nikiski’s Bethany Carstens will always remember.
Last Saturday, the Nikiski senior helped lead the Bulldogs to their first high school volleyball state championship in 18 years.
Thursday afternoon, Carstens committed to her future by signing her collegiate letter of intent to play basketball at Division I Chicago State University, making it official in a ceremony in the Nikiski High commons area.
Carstens is likely the first peninsula basketball player to sign a Div. I commitment in 25 years, since 1993 Soldotna graduate Molly Tutor took her talents to Arizona State. Rachel Thompson, a 2015 Nikiski grad, currently competes for the Div. I Washington State women’s soccer team, but originally signed to play at the community college level.
Carstens credited her parents, Dan and Debbie Carstens, along with former girls basketball coach Scott Anderson and wife Sari, club traveling coach Ryan Hales, and Soldotna assistant coach Curtis Schmidt, who coached Carstens in her youth days at the comp level.
“I makes me feel really thankful for my parents and all the time they’ve put in,” Carstens said. “All my coaches have been teaching me, and all my friends’ parents, they were a big part of this too, and my friends, because they’ve pushed me.”
Carstens said she is looking to go into the nursing program that the school offers.
Chicago State competes in the Western Athletic Conference in the NCAA. Carstens will look to build on a program that went 1-29 overall last year, but Carstens said she chose Chicago State due to the programs’ commitment to her, which includes a full ride scholarship.
“It feels like a relief,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about that anymore, I know where I’m going. It just feels like the next step.”
Carstens said she chose the Cougars basketball program over other offers from Division III and NAIA programs, as well as both the University of Alaska Anchorage and Fairbanks programs, because of how committed Chicago State was to her.
“I feel like if I went there, I could be the best basketball player I could be,” she said. “It’s a DI program, I have a full ride so I don’t have to worry about money issues. Everything’s perfect.”
Bethany’s father, Nikiski High principal Dan Carstens, said the commitment that the school gave his daughter was exceptional, explaining that the current Chicago State recruiting coordinator watched Carstens compete last summer in a camp. The recruiter at the time worked at Central Methodist University in Missouri and liked what he saw in Carstens’ game.
After making the move to Chicago State, the recruiter pushed to have Carstens on the team.
“He started talking to the head coach and said, ‘Hey I’ve got video of this two-guard that you’ve got to see,” said Dan Carstens. “And the head coach said, ‘Naw I’m not interested in a two-guard, we’re not looking for that right now’, and he told her to just watch the video.
“She watched the video, came back the next day and said, ‘I’m looking for a two-guard now’. Totally changed her mind.”
With a desire to have the 2018 Class 3A Alaska Player of the Year on their team, Dan Carstens said it was the right fit for Bethany.
“To feel wanted like that, that’s what I want for my daughter,” he said. “To be wanted in a program, not as an after thought. She is one of their top choices.”
Carstens added that his daughter’s signing represents the kind of quality student athletes Alaska is producing that often may go unnoticed.
“It means the programs we have here, if you’re willing to put in the extra time, they’re quality programs,” he said. “The high school coaches here were encouraging and recognized what she had.”
The signing also signals the pinnacle of a remarkable comeback after Carstens suffered two tears of the anterior cruciate ligament to both knees — one before her freshman year, and the second at the end of her sophomore season, when Nikiski was competing in the region tournament.
Cartens’ first ACL tear caused her to miss the entire 2015-16 campaign, while the second one forced her out of the 2017 state tournament, where the Bulldogs finished fifth.