If regular seasons decided championships, then the Wasilla girls would have clinched the Northern Lights Conference crown long ago.
Luckily for everyone else, there is a tournament to play.
The Northern Lights Conference tournament gets underway today on “The Rock”, otherwise known as the island of Kodiak. As the top seed in the six-team girls field, Wasilla gets a first-day bye, as well as No. 2 Colony. The Warriors rolled to a spectacular 10-0 record in the NLC this year, while Colony finished at 8-2, it’s only two losses coming to — guess who? — Wasilla.
In its 10 contests against region competition, Wasilla outscored its opponents by an average margin of 36 points. The Warriors’ closest win was a nine-point squeaker over Colony on Feb. 11. Every other win was by 23 points or more.
The best team playing today will be the Soldotna Stars, who grabbed the third seed with a 5-5 record. SoHi recorded victories this year over Palmer, Kodiak and Kenai Central. On the final day of the regular season, the Stars took control in a 37-18 win over Kenai, which had beaten SoHi earlier in the year on a last-second circus shot on SoHi’s home floor.
After Saturday’s win, Soldotna coach Kyle McFall did not mince words in describing the importance of securing the third seed.
“That’s huge,” McFall said. “That was a big goal for us from the beginning of the season.”
SoHi will get to face the host team Kodiak girls tonight at 8:15 p.m., with the winner advancing to play the Colony Knights. SoHi swept Kodiak this season with scores of 26-22 and 39-25.
The top two teams from the NLC tournament earn automatic bids to state, while any other state hopefuls will have to wait until Sunday night’s ASAA Selection Show, when it will be revealed who the other two “wild card” teams are, based on the Win Percentage Index.
Currently, the Stars are ranked 11th in the WPI, with a score of .492 (approximately), and the last team that would currently be in are the Ketchikan Kings, who are ranked eighth with a score of .535, putting SoHi within range of a WPI spot if an automatic bid from the NLC tournament does not materialize.
Entering this weekend, the Stars have won six of their last eight games, including wins over Palmer and Kenai. SoHi also took home the trophy in early February as the Dimond Prep Shootout Maroon champions, a key weekend that saw SoHi defeat 4A opponents West Valley and South.
“They’re a bunch of scrappers,” McFall said. “They dive on the floor for everything.”
SoHi will start on the opposite side of the bracket from Wasilla.
Kenai, meanwhile, gets its tournament underway with a 4:45 p.m. game against Palmer. The winner will move on to face mighty Wasilla in a Friday semifinal at 4 p.m.
The Kardinals finished their regular season run at 3-7, getting wins over Soldotna, Palmer and Kodiak. Kenai lost its first meeting against Palmer this year 45-37 at home, but returned to defeat the Moose 49-47 on the road.
The boys tournament features a similar feel to the girls. Like their female counterparts, the Wasilla and Colony boys finished first and second, respectively, to earn first-day byes. Wasilla saw its run at a perfect NLC season fall by the wayside last Saturday with a stunning loss to Colony. The Warriors finished 9-1 and the Knights 7-3.
Kodiak earned the third seed with a 6-4 record, and will take on No. 6 Soldotna, which finished 1-9 in NLC play this year, today at 6:30 p.m. The winner of that game will advance to play Colony in a 5:45 p.m. semifinal Friday.
SoHi lost both conference games to Kodiak this year, but the battle was tight with scores of 49-42 and 48-41.
The No. 5 Kenai boys (2-8) begin their tournament weekend with a 3 p.m. matchup today against No. 4 Palmer, and the winner moving on to play top-seeded Wasilla 2:15 p.m. Friday in the semifinals. The Kardinals picked up conference wins this year against Kodiak and SoHi.
Kenai lost three times to Palmer this year, starting with a 59-37 loss at the Dimond Prep Tournament in January, then droppin g NLC meetings of 50-38 at home and 58-45 on the road.