The core domino of the Class 1A hoops powerhouse Ninilchik boys team fell this week when head coach Nick Finley announced his departure to another coaching position outside the state.
Finley, a three-time Peninsula Conference Coach of the Year and two-time Region II and Class 1A State Coach of the year, coached the Wolverines boys team to a pair of state basketball championships in his six years as head coach, but announced he is moving on to coach a Class 4A school in Cottage Grove, Oregon. He leaves Ninilchik with an overall record of 103-65 in six years at the helm.
Finley said when the call came with an offer, the attraction of moving back to his home state of Oregon was too great to ignore.
“I was batting around the idea and they offered me a few things,” Finley said. “I was going along with it for a week or so, then the principal called me and asked, ‘Before we go any further than this, how interested are you?’
“I said, ‘Why not?”
Finley will move to coach at Cottage Grove High School, where he will also serve as a guidance counselor at the school of roughly 800 students.
A replacement for Finley’s position has not been made yet, but Finley said he would not be surprised if current Ninilchik girls coach Josh Demlow were to be considered for the spot. Demlow spent two years as a boys assistant under Finley before taking on the head girls position last year, a season that saw the girls team finish sixth at the state tournament.
If Demlow were to be moved to the boys team, Finley said he would support the school promoting former three-time Class 2A Basketball Player of the Year winner Whitney Schollenberg (formerly Leman) to the girls position. Schollenberg led the Ninilchik girls to four 2A state championships in her four years as a player from 2000 to 2003.
With his new career move, it appears Finley has turned the tables on his old school. Finley attended Creswell High School, a rival of Cottage Grove back in the day, where he won a Class 3A state championship with the team in 2004.
Now, Finley is set to replace longtime Cottage Grove coach Donn Pollard, whose teams often sparred heavily with Finley’s Creswell squads. Finley was inducted into the Creswell Athletic Hall of Fame two years ago.
With two young children aged 20 months and 3 1/2 years, and wife, Natalee, supporting the move, Finley said the transition made sense.
“This was a no-brainer for me,” he said. “I wanted to look at other options, to see if I could coach at a higher level.”
Finley arrived in Ninilchik in 2010 and immediately found a home in the community as a Youth Outreach Coordinator at the Ninilchik Traditional Counsel and as an assistant hoops coach with the boys basketball team under head coach Keith Presley. He said leaving behind the town of roughly 880 residents has been a tough decision.
“They were super welcoming to me,” he said. “It’s just been incredible. That was the hardest part for me to take into account, was leaving this place.”
Finley took over the head coaching position in fall of 2011, and slowly built up the program from a back-of-the-pack straggler to a juggernaut entity that capped a 37-game win streak against 1A competition with a second straight state crown last March.
In 2016, Ninilchik survived in overtime to beat conference rival Nikolaevsk, then walloped Gambell this year to defend its title.
The 2017 Ninilchik boys will lose most of its starting core of seniors, a group that includes Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year Austin White, a 6-foot-8 dominator that will be playing for the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves in the fall. Finley said another of his players is considering available college options as well, but the biggest goal of his was to mold his players into strong leaders of the community.
“There’s a lot of things I got out of coaching here, the relationships I built with a number of these kids was one,” he said. “The hard work and dedication from these kids made it worth it.”