A small town on the mouth of Kachemak Bay with a population of less than 300 has finally gotten its moment in the spotlight.
Wednesday night at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, the Seldovia boys delivered their hometown its first-ever Class 1A state basketball championship, dominating the Scammon Bay Eagles in a 62-34 rout.
“There’s a lot of tradition in the town with basketball,” explained Seldovia coach Mark Janes. “Everyone turns up for the games, there’s a lot of support, a lot of fundraising.
“It’s kind of like the town’s investment has paid off.”
Indeed it has, with a big state trophy that the Otters can put in their trophy case at Susan B. English high school.
Perhaps more surprising than Seldovia claiming its inaugural title is the fashion in which they did it. Scammon Bay entered the big dance as one of the favorites to win it all after finishing its regular season undefeated and near the top spot in the weekly coaches poll.
But against the Sea Otters, the Eagles struggled with cold shooting, hitting only 21 percent of their shots in the second half to end up 23 percent overall. Meanwhile, Seldovia had the hot hand all night with a 57 percent shooting performance.
“We came out, and they did everything we practiced,” Janes said tongue in cheek. “Our press break was a little rough, but my three backcourt guys are really good ball-handlers, and so they were able to withstand it.”
The triumph was preceded by a rapid rise of the team. Just two years ago, Seldovia finished fifth at the region tournament, denying the team any chance at state, a tournament which barely registered on anyone’s radar.
“They were a bunch of freshmen that didn’t have any size, but they were learning how to win,” Janes said. “They were getting their butt kicked, and they went into regions that year and climbed up a spot.”
Last year, Seldovia won its first Peninsula Conference tournament title, then went on to finish third at state.
Wednesday night, the effort and hard work paid off.
Junior guards Calem Collier and Aidan Philpot led the charge from the get-go. Collier, who netted 30 points in Tuesday’s semifinal, scored a game-high 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting, while Philpot added 17 and grabbed 15 rebounds as well. Collier and Philpot were both named to the boys state all-tournament team.
“It’s what we’ve dreamed of since sixth grade,” Philpot said. “I’ve always wanted to be here, but now we actually did it, it feels sort of surreal.”
Collier said the gravity of the moment never rattled the team, which was firing on all cylinders.
“We just came out and were fired up,” Collier said. “We were ready to win it.”
When the buzzer sounded at the end of game, Collier was one of a few players that had tears in their eyes.
“It’s huge,” Collier said. “It’s the first time for Seldovia getting here, and we got it. It feels awesome.”
“It took a lot of commitment from everyone,” Philpot added.
Philpot said he hugged his girlfriend first, followed shortly by his parents.
“I thought it’d be a lot tougher game,” Philpot said. “After the past two days, I was surprised.”
Seldovia won its quarterfinal and semifinal games by a combined margin of two points.
Janes, of course, played down his role in guiding the boys to the pinnacle of state high school basketball.
“The kids at the school did it, I’m just a facilitator, a conduit that gave them some direction,” he said. “But they have the talent and the drive, and watching them set that goal and achieve it. It’s a good life lesson.”
A fast start may have looked deceptive at first, but the hits kept on coming. Just over five minutes into the game, Seldovia had compiled a 13-3 lead, a run capped by a layup from O’Leary, who was wide open under the net when he received a pinpoint assist from Philpot.
Scammon Bay cut back into the lead early in the second quarter, getting as close as 18-12 with 5:41 left in the half, but Collier and O’Leary teamed up for seven straight points, including a step-back trey by Collier, to push the lead up to 25-12.
A driving layup by Philpot in the last few seconds of the first half resulted in a 29-15 lead at halftime. Seldovia shot 66 percent in the first half, and was helped with second-chance opportunities from strong rebounding.
“I gave them the mandate that if we were going to win the championship, we had to get more possessions,” Janes said. “The easiest way to get more possessions is to get rebounds.”
O’Leary likely had the hottest hand, as the senior was 5 for 5 from the field in the first half for 12 points, the majority of them coming on sneak-attack layups that were made possible by teammates drawing attention on the perimeter.
In the second half, the Otters continued to fire away with good results, while Scammon Bay simply could not buy a basket. It showed in the final stats, too, as the Eagles leading scorer was Tristan Brown with eight points, while 1A boys player of the year Angel Medina, usually a lethal threat in all aspects of the game, was held to four points on 1-for-8 shooting.
Janes explained that the defensive strategy he employed from the beginning of the year worked to near perfection.
“We’ve worked this whole year on packing the paint, and it was totally built for teams that drive to the hoop,” Janes said. “Chance (Haller) took a couple of really huge charges, and that’s denying them two points.”
A stingy, suffocating defense held the Eagles to only two points in the third quarter, after which Seldovia led 44-17.
By the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Otters widened the gap to 30 points. Not long after that, Scammon Bay coach Harley Sundown put up the symbolic white flag by substituting in his bench players.
Seldovia stands a good chance of repeating next year as well. Collier noted that the only two players that the team stands to lose is Turkish foreign exchange student Sami Ozyildirim and senior starter Chance Haller.
“Now we gotta do it again next year,” he said.
Nikolaevsk boys 66,
The Warriors claimed fourth place at the 1A state tournament with a win over the Lynx, although they had to work for it.
A year after being relegated to the consolation bracket before the first day was over, Nikolaevsk improved in 2015 with fourth place, and is set to return every starter next year.
“We’re thrilled to finish strong and take fourth,” said Nikolaevsk coach Steve Klaich.
Wednesday at the Alaska Airlines Center, however, the Lynx were determined to give the Warriors all they had.
With his team trailing 53-40 midway through the fourth quarter, Travis Black found a groove and scored 15 straight points in a span of 2:19 to cut Nikolaevsk’s lead to three with just over two minutes to play.
“(Black) got hot late, and we had to make some adjustments,” Klaich said. “I put Nikit (Fefelov) on him, and it turned out to be the right choice.”
Fefelov had a hot game himself, draining four 3s for 14 points in the first quarter, and finishing with a game-high 23 points. Fefelov ended the game 8 for 11 from the floor. Fefelov was later named to the boys state all-tournament team.
“He was on fire early, and it was because of good teamwork throughout,” Klaich said.
Felemon Molodih shot 8 for 12 to finish with 20 points for Nikolaevsk, and Jonah Fefelov added 10.
Nikolaevsk found the basket early and easily, netting 20 first-quarter points, and extended its lead to 37-28 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Fefelov, Molodih and Neil Gordeev all contributed in an 8-0 run that saw Nikolaevsk build its lead to 45-32.
But in the waning minutes, it was the Travis Black show. Black outscored the Warriors 15-5 to cut the Manokotak deficit to 58-55 with 2:20 remaining, a run that included three triples and was capped by a steal and a layup.
However, the run was stopped by Molodih, who was fouled on a made layup with 1:40 to play and converted the extra shot. The closest the Lynx got from there was four points, as Molodih hit 3 of 3 from the free-throw line to ice the win in the final two minutes.
In the locker room after the game, Klaich asked his players to set a goal for next year, and set one himself.
“We’re in a tough conference, so number one, we need to get out of our conference to get back to state,” Klaich said. “Having no seniors this year, I’m optimistic we have the tools, we just need to put in the work.
“The ball’s in their court.”
Nikolaevsk girls 59,
The Warriors finished the game and their season strong, breaking open a close game in the second half to roll to fourth place at the 1A girls state tournament.
With the game tied at 30 apiece with 3:09 left in the third quarter, Nikolaevsk scored 29 unanswered points to secure the win. The Warriors held the Malamutes scoreless over the course of that run until 18 seconds left in the game. Overall, Nikolaevsk doubled up on the boards over Newhalen, bringing down 46 rebounds to 23 for the Malamutes.
Nikolaevsk has finishes of fifth, second and fourth to go along with a consolation championship in the last four years.
“I asked the girls to finish strong, and they did,” said Nikolaevsk coach Bea Klaich.
The Warriors started the game, however, with their customary style. Newhalen staked out a 15-9 lead after one quarter, but Nikolaevsk returned with eight straight points, including several off of turnovers, to grab a 19-17 lead midway through the second quarter, a run that was capped by a steal and a layup from Megan Hickman. Hickman led the Warriors with 18 points, while teammate Serafima Kalugin netted 13 and Kilina Klaich grabbed 12 rebounds. Kalugin was later named to the girls state all-tournament team.
At halftime, the two teams found themselves in a 24-all tie.
The third quarter began as a back-and-forth game of inches, as both teams traded the lead three times. But after the three-minute mark ticked across the board, Kalugin and Hickman began to lead the late charge. Nikolaevsk also received some help late in the quarter when Rhiannon Nanalook — Newhalen’s leading scorer with 10 points — went down with an ankle injury.
With Nanalook out for the remainder of the game, the Warriors quickly turned the contest into a blowout.
With four juniors on this year’s squad likely returning next year as seniors with four years of state experience, coach Klaich said she remains optimistic as ever in making a return trip to the big dance.
“I think it gives this team a lot of confidence,” Klaich said. “We’re losing one starter, but my bench is getting stronger.”
Sea Otters 62, Eagles 34
Seldovia 15 14 15 18 —62
Scammon Bay 8 7 2 17 —34
SELDOVIA (62) — Scribner 0 0-0 0, Ozyildirim 1 0-0 2, Waterbury 0 2-3 2, Collier 8 5-6 23, Haller 0 1-2 1, Philpot 5 5-7 17, O’Leary 6 5-6 17, Stanish 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 18-24 62.
SCAMMON BAY (34) — Medina 1 1-2 4, Sundown 2 1-2 6, Hunter 0 0-0 0, Ayapan 0 0-0 0, Rivers 0 0-0 0, Brown 3 1-3 8, Rivers 2 0-2 4, Akerelrea 2 0-2 6, Kaganak 0 0-0 0, Sundown 2 0-0 6, Kaganak 0 0-0 0, Hunter 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 3-11 34.
3-point goals — Seldovia 4 (Collier 2, Philpot 2); Scammon Bay 7 (Sundown 2, Akerelrea 2, Medina 1, Sundown 1, Brown 1). Fouled out — none.
Warriors 66, Lynx 60
Nikolaevsk 20 17 12 17 —66
Manokotak 17 11 12 20 —60
NIKOLAEVSK (66) — K. Molodih 2 0-2 4, Trail 0 0-0 0, N. Fefelov 8 2-2 23, Gordeev 2 3-3 7, F. Molodih 8 4-7 20, J. Fefelov 4 2-2 10, Kalugin 1 0-0 2. Totals 25 11-18 66.
MANOKOTAK (60) — Andrew 4 0-0 8, J. Gloko 4 6-11 14, Nick 0 0-0 0, T. Black 7 3-4 20, A. Gloko 6 3-4 17, D. Black 0 1-2 1. Totals 21 13-21 60.
3-point goals — Nikolaevsk 5 (N. Fefelov 5); Manokotak 5 (T. Black 3, A. Gloko 2). Fouled out — T. Black.
Warriors 59, Malamutes 33
Nikolaevsk 9 15 15 20 —59
Newhalen 15 9 6 3 —33
NIKOLAEVSK (59) — Ki. Klaich 3 0-0 7, Kr. Klaich 2 0-0 4, Fefelov 1 1-2 4, Johnson 1 0-2 2, Sellers 0 0-0 0, Kalugin 6 1-3 13, N. Gordeev 3 0-0 6, E. Gordeev 1 1-2 3, Dorvall 0 0-0 0, Hickman 7 4-7 18, Jones 1 0-0 2. Totals 25 7-16 59.
NEWHALEN (33) — S. Anelon 2 0-0 5, Askoak 0 0-0 0, Paine 3 0-0 8, S. Nanalook 3 0-0 7, R. Nanalook 4 2-4 10, B. Anelon 1 0-0 3, A. Anelon 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 2-4 33.