Southcentral Conference hoops preview

The phrase that most basketball coaches love to hear — “Everyone starts at zero and zero” — will be the motivating force behind every prep hoops team this weekend at the Southcentral Conference tournament.

The opening games tip off today, starting with an early 8 a.m. matchup featuring the Houston and Homer girls squads, and finishing with the championship games on Saturday — 6 p.m. for the girls and 7:30 p.m. for the boys. At stake is three girls berths and three boys berths to the Class 3A state tournament.

Cordova High School will be the site of the tournament, which is a setting with which most teams are familiar. Seward was one of the teams that competed there back in January’s Cordova tournament.

The boys side seems pretty set for the moment. The Anchorage Christian Schools and Grace Christian boys are the heavy favorites to meet in Saturday’s championship game, but like the aforementioned phrase suggests, an upset could easily be in the works.

ACS (21-1) has a single loss on the season, coming at the hands of an outside team from Texas. The Grace boys (18-6) have three losses to Class 3A teams, two of those against ACS.

“They’ve proven themselves throughout the season,” said Skyview boys coach Jesse Settlemyer. “All the other schools have taken turns beating each other, so it’ll come down to that third-place game.”

The girls tournament looks to be more open. Nikiski (18-4) and ACS (17-2) enter as the main favorites, combining for only six losses for the season.

“The ACS girls are dominant, they just have five very solid players,” said Nikiski girls coach Scott Anderson. “They’re really aggressive and get after it with the press, and they have a lot of scorers who score a lot of points.”

With many visiting teams taking the long ferry ride out of Whittier en route to Cordova, opponents will be getting quite familiar with each other this weekend before what promises to be an action-packed event.

The Skyview teams are heading into their final regional tournament in their school history, before the school closes after the year is done.

The Skyview boys begin their tournament with a 4:30 p.m. tilt today against Grace Christian. The Grizzlies are led by coach Chuck Boerger, who is retiring after 36 years of coaching, 21 in Alaska.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Settlemyer said about Skyview’s last chance at making it to state. “Whatever team is going to come out of it with the third seed is going to have to battle and play good basketball, and we hope it’s us.”

Skyview finished the season on a three-game win streak that left it at 4-6 in the conference and 11-11 overall.

Led by seniors Micah Hilbish, Jacob Carlson and junior Tim Duke, the Panthers may be peaking at just the right time.

“The energy level is important, we have to be mentally prepared,” Settlemyer said. “It’s going to be key. We can’t afford to take a quarter off.”

The bad news is that Skyview was walloped 64-29 the last time the Panthers played Grace two weeks ago.

“Obviously, a lot of it will be about controlling the tempo of the game, practicing good ball control, and taking good shots,” Settlemyer said. “We have to get out on their shooters, and limit the number of possessions they get on offense.”

Depending on what plays out today, Skyview will be playing either the host Cordova or Seward on Friday.

The Skyview girls are also starting their conference tournament with a frightening matchup, as they take on ACS today at 11 a.m.

“We’ve just been trying to prepare as if it’s a normal game,” said Skyview girls coach Kyle McFall. “We’ve been working on our press break, being more efficient in the half court and being patient.

“Defensively, we’re just trying to clean up our rotations so we can get out on their shooters.”

The Panthers took a 70-30 loss to ACS two weeks ago, which started with an 18-0 run by ACS.

“That was an interesting game because Meghan Powers was in foul trouble and Sam Reynolds was hurt,” McFall said. “Our younger girls really had to step it up in that game, and hopefully those girls will continue to step up again.”

Reynolds and Powers, the two seniors on the team, will be on court against the Lions this time around, which could make things closer.

Skyview enters the tournament 12-11 overall and 4-6 in the conference, and as the final year, McFall said the team is trying to deflect the pressure that comes with trying to end with a bang.

“Even if it wasn’t the last year, state would be our goal,” McFall said. “I think that adds a little too much pressure sometimes.”

The Panthers will get either the Houston or Homer girls on Friday, depending on how things shake out.

The Seward Seahawks are trying to return both hoops teams to the state tournament.

The Seward boys get their conference tournament started with a 7:30 p.m. matchup with the host team Cordova.

“I hope that we’re going to keep up the energy, we looked pretty good the last couple of practices,” said Seward boys coach Curtis Berry. “You never know what a ferry ride will do to you. Everybody is literally on the same boat.”

The boys finished the season at 12-12 overall and 6-4 in the conference, and Berry said he believes his team is on the right track going into the weekend.

“I think we’re at a good place to fight our way into the ring,” he said. “I like the idea that we’re playing the home crowd. I mean, it’s better than an eight or nine morning game. I think we can feed off that energy.”

Facing up against the home crowd isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Seward beat Cordova 60-56 in overtime back on Jan. 3, then lost 57-54 the next day in an endowment game, so today’s matchup is almost sure to be close.

“We don’t have any illusions that it won’t be a dogfight,” Berry said. “Any games will be battles, but we feel like we’re up to the challenge, and we’re going into it.”

Led by spirited players such as Matt Moore, Michael Marshall and Michael Wolfe, the Seahawks have proven that they can keep up a high-tempo, high-energy pace throughout games.

“It does have something to do with strategy,” Berry said. “We’re a team that likes to go, and we want to push it, we like playing around the edge, rather than slowing it down.

“That’s the kind of puzzle we have this year.”

The Seward girls are facing a team today that they have beaten once this year already, Grace Christian at 3 p.m.

The Seahawks edged the Grizzlies 28-25 in late January, but with over a month since that meeting, Seward coach Mark Clemens said a lot could have changed.

“We got to watch them play at the Delta tournament, but everybody’s come a long ways,” Clemens said. “I think it’ll be a good game, and who makes the fewest turnovers will come out with the winner.”

The Seahawks finished at 12-11 overall this season, 6-4 in the conference, and the team ended the regular season with two losses, so a jump-start will be needed to ensure a state berth.

“I think it’s a good matchup, there’s a lot of even teams in our conference, so any game that one team doesn’t show up for, the other has it.”

Six girls from last year’s state team will return to the conference championships this weekend, so experience isn’t a large concern for Clemens.

“I think we’re in the right spot, mentally,” he said. “But it just depends. I mean, last year we managed to play our best games at regions.”

One of the schools that Clemens said the Seahawks need to watch out for is the Homer Mariners.

The boys team has racked up an impressive 16-9 mark this year (5-5 in the conference), and sports a combination of speed and size, and will get their conference tournament started off with a 9:30 a.m. game today with the Houston Hawks.

With guards such as Quinn Daugharty and Filip Reutov leading the outside attack, and a big man such as Sheldon Hutt at the post, Homer could give the bracket a shakeup. Depending on what goes down today, the Mariners will face either Nikiski or ACS on Friday.

The Homer girls enter the tournament with a 6-4 record in the conference, along with a three-game hot streak.

Madison Akers and Tayla Cabana have combined to produce a formidable duo, and the team ended the regular season on a high note, topping Nikiski on Monday, Skyview on Friday and Seward on Saturday.

The team will face Houston in the first game of the day today at 8 a.m.

Homer coach Connie Akers said she is expecting big things out of her group.

“We’re hoping to go to state, that’s our big goal,” Akers said after last Friday’s win over Skyview. “We don’t care what place we get, we just want to go to state.”

On the opposite side of the bracket, the Nikiski girls team is raring to go, coming in as one of the tourney favorites.

The Nikiski girls finished the regular season at 8-2 in the conference and 18-4 overall, and will face host Cordova today at 6 p.m.

“The funny thing about the region tournament is that every team knows they’re two games away from playing at state,” said Nikiski girls coach Scott Anderson. “For our girls, we want to be playing great defense and making it hard for the other team to get quality shots.”

The Bulldogs beat Cordova 48-25 at the end of January, but Anderson knows better than to overlook the home team.

“That game was closer than it looked, it was 6-6 after the first quarter, and we led 19-13 at the half,” he said. “I think for us, the focus is more on playing aggressively, and playing to win and not to lose. That’ll be the challenge.”

Perhaps the team learned a little something in last week’s surprising loss against Homer. Anderson said that game was a wakeup call for his team.

“It was a good refocusing time for us, we learned a couple lessons,” Anderson said. “It’s been their goal to make it to state, and they know this is the opportunity to do that. The ball’s in their court.”

The Bulldogs’ success has stemmed from shooters such as Rachel Thompson and Emily Lynch, and post players such as Alyssa Darch that can grab crucial rebounds. Anderson said Darch is averaging almost 11 rebounds a game this year, and had 19 against Skyview last week.

The league-leading ACS girls start on the opposite side of the tournament bracket this weekend to Nikiski, which could lead to a matchup in the championship game between the top two in the conference.

“At this point, we honestly haven’t thought about ACS at all,” Anderson said. “I know our girls have talked about a chance to play them again. We just have all the respect for that team.”

Nikiski lost to ACS on Jan. 10, but only by a score of 57-45, putting them as one of the favorites to knock off the favorites.

But for now, the Nikiski girls are focused on Cordova.

“Cordova has three really good outside shooters, and a pretty big girl inside,” Anderson said. “They’re quick and aggressive, and they play well at home.

“If we can play at a faster pace than they want to play, and get out and run and push the ball on the court, we can do good things.”

The Nikiski boys enter the tournament with a 6-19 mark for the season (1-9 in the conference), and will start their weekend with a 12:30 p.m. matchup today against the high-powered ACS boys.

The Bulldogs lost to ACS 75-30 in early January, and if they wish to pull an upset on the Lions, they will need big games from players such as Seth Carstens, Luke Johnson and Michael Stangel, all starters.

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