A core group of six players from Seldovia has been through nearly everything since they started playing together in the sixth grade in the tiny town located across from Homer on Kachemak Bay.
There was middle school success, then tough times in early high school, then a string of successes this season and last.
But the one thing those players have not experienced is also something Seldovia has not experienced — a championship in a true statewide basketball tournament. The closest the town came was in 2000, when the girls lost in the Class 2A final 55-31 to the runaway dynasty that was Ninilchik.
Seldovia starts play in the Class 1A tournament Saturday at Wells Fargo Gym with a 3:30 p.m. game against Kotlik.
“We definitely have a feeling that if Seldovia was to ever get a shot at the state trophy, this is the group to do it,” Seldovia boys head coach Mark Janes said. “I’ve looked through the trophy cases, and since they started doing a true state tournament I don’t think Seldovia has ever brought home a trophy.
“With the core of juniors, we still have a shot at it next year, but we’ve gotten this far. We’ve got to take a shot at it.”
The core group leading the Sea Otters into March Madness Alaska is seniors Seth O’Leary and Chance Haller, and juniors Aidan Philpot, Calem Collier, Robert Waterbury and Dylan Waterbury.
Seldovia is not going to turn any heads getting off the bus, but once they get on the floor and the coordination of their movements and basketball skills start to flow, the reason for success is evident.
The Sea Otters won the Peninsula Conference tournament last season, then finished third at the Class 1A tournament.
This year’s squad again won the Peninsula Conference and finished at 18-2, winning its last 15 games.
The two losses came to the junior varsity teams of Soldotna and Kenai Central. And close games came against Ninilchik, featuring 6-foot-8 Austin White.
“Those teams had some height and tough defense inside,” Janes said. “We can run with most teams, but if they start packing the paint and we can’t get to the rim, we have problems.”
Janes said that in a poll of Alaska coaches, the Sea Otters and Fort Yukon have been trading off as the top 1A team all season.
Fort Yukon and Seldovia were both at the Nenana Invitational Tournament. The squads didn’t meet, but Seldovia won the tournament.
Those two squads are on opposite sides of the bracket, but Janes said it’s too early to think that far ahead.
He said 6-foot-2 Turkish exchange student Sami Ozyildirim provides some height for his squad, but the Sea Otters always have to be wary about coming up against a bigger, physical team out of a remote part of the state.
Janes’ knowledge of Kotlik is typical of that for 1A first-round matchups, and that is little to none. But the coach said his team has the advantage of being through the whole experience once.
“With last year’s appearance, there will be less jitters and we will be more focused on getting the job done,” he said.