NERVES OF STEEL—Nome Nanook Orson Hoogendorn moves the ball into the danger zone with less than 10 seconds to play in last Saturday’s State Championship game against Mt. Edgecumbe. With just two seconds left he delivered a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to put the Nanooks into the lead and cinch the state title for 2024

Nanooks are 2024 State Champions!

Clutching their State Championship trophy, the Nome Nanooks Boys’ Basketball team exited the Alaska Airlines terminal in Nome on Sunday to a true hero’s welcome. A crowd of Nanook fans gathered as snow fell, holding signs praising the winning team and welcoming them home.
As Mayor John Handeland belted out the Nome-Beltz Alma Mater, the boys and cheer team boarded the bus to begin their victory lap through town.
Fans jumped out of their cars with posters at the sound of the approaching ambulance sirens in the parade. “Don’t Stop Believing” could be heard playing from one car and fans young and old cheered as the bus drove by with the waving champions.
The Nome Nanooks officially secured their 3A State Championship title after they beat the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves 63-61 last Saturday with a game winning 3-pointer from Orson Hoogendorn in the last seconds.
The Braves were previously undefeated this season and a fierce competitor. “They have who I have always said is the best coach in Alaska, Archie Young who was in his 25th year of coaching,” Nome-Beltz’s Coach Patrick Callahan said.  
The Nanooks came in hot, looking to reclaim their championship after falling short last year. “Our whole team was like ‘We have to get this’ after losing by 30 points last year. That’s the one thing we were just looking for the whole season,” Senior player Richard Cross told the Nugget.
This is the second time in three years Nome-Beltz has won states and the third year they made it all the way to finals. They won the title in 2022 and last year they lost the championship game to Grace Christian, the team they beat 48- 41 this year on Thursday March 21. The day before they beat Houston 55-39.

The game
The Nanooks had a decent lead in the beginning of the finals, but the Braves caught up, only two points behind Nome to end the first half. From there Nome-Beltz was down almost the whole second half, trailing sometimes 7 points behind. With less than a minute left, down by one, Nanooks needed a play.
Hoogendorn tried for a three and missed, 17 seconds left in the game, Callahan calls timeout. During the breather, Hoogendorn said his teammate reassured him, “Richard said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna hit this next one. Keep shooting.’”
Callahan told them to run an inbound play.
Nome ball, 17 seconds, Finn Gregg has the ball and goes for a 2-point shot, it bounces out. Rebound is snagged by Payton Weyiouanna who passes it to Richard Cross who tosses it back to Hoogendorn. He pump-fakes a shot, finds his angle and sinks it.  
“My mind kind of went blank like, tunnel vision almost. I couldn’t hear the crowd. It was just kind of like in my own space and then I saw it go in. Then everything came back to me, and I could hear the crowd and it was it was a surreal experience,” Hoogendorn told the Nugget.
“Sometimes I worry Orson doesn’t know how much time is on the clock, honestly. And so when the ball ended up in Richards hands, should we have called the timeout maybe at that point, because there’s about four seconds left and we’re still down a point. But taking the time out allows the defense to show the setup and do some things,” Callahan said.
Though he may have not known what was on the clock, Hoogendorn did know how to secure the game. The Nanooks are a team built on trust, Junior Finn Gregg said, “Somebody’s always gonna step up and make a play that’s what I can really say about this team, so I have 100 percent faith in my guys no matter what the situation.”

Support from Home
Nomeites showed up to the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage in droves last weekend to support the Nanooks. There was a sea of blue above the Nanook bench cheering the team to victory. Hoogendorn said it felt like they were playing a home game with all the support. Back in Nome those who couldn’t travel to Anchorage made their way to the Nome Elementary School to watch on a big projector.  
Bringing home the trophy felt like rewarding all the fans who have supported the Nanooks all season, win or lose, Gregg said. “It’s bigger than the 10 guys that suit up and the five guys on the floor like we really represent a whole community and to be able to reward them with a trophy like that feels really good,” he said.
On Monday morning the team walked the halls of the elementary school and talked to kids who look up to the champions. “It was just very cool to show the little kids the trophy, and we’re telling them like, this could be them. When I was eighth grade, I dreamed of playing for the Nanooks,” two-time State Champion Cross said.
Bringing a team from Western Alaska to the state tournament adds a whole other element of pride for coach Callahan. The competitive, can-do attitude of his players is what motivates him. Teams like Mt. Edgecumbe have much wider pools of students to work with, making this win even sweeter, not to mention the community reception. After securing the win Callahan lets the fans take over and plan the celebrations. “It’s just a really fun time. It’s just neat,” he said. “And I’d always thought this is how it was going to be before I got here. Turns out it is and even more so.”
Gregg and Cross were both named to the All-Tourney team. Hoogendorn earned Player of the Championship Game honors.

About the winning Nanooks
This year the varsity team is represented by students from all grades. Coach Callahan gave the Nugget some insight into the players who secured the State Championship.
Freshman Cohen Booth has started all season and is a reliable shooter. “He played really well for us and that was a super important factor in the outcome of the game,” Callahan said.
 Senior Richard Cross has been on the team and working with Callahan all four years. He always has a big influence on games, not only with points but rebounds, blocks and steals. The championship was no different, “He didn’t score a lot of points, only eight but he showed up in all the other stat columns, he dominated the game without scoring” Callahan said.
Junior guard Finn Gregg is the coach on the floor, Callahan said, he knows what the team needs to accomplish and is a leader in making it happen. “It’s a super valuable thing for our team to have and when he’s out there I step back and he’s in control,” Callahan said.
Junior Orson Hoogendorn is a grounded, naturally talented player. He hasn’t started for most of this season but that doesn’t affect his game like it does other players, Callahan said. Hoogendorn gives his all to the game but doesn’t put as much pressure on himself as other players only focused on basketball might.
Freshman Kevin Ongtowasruk is a grinder, giving maximum effort the whole time he’s on the court, Callahan said, “He [Ongtowasruk] was a really nice surprise for me this year and has a bright future going forward.”
Freshman Lane Schuerch is a steady, reliable player that’s been sinking threes all season.
Sophomore Peyton Weyiouanna is a team player. He gave the Nanooks their second chance in the championship game when Gregg’s shot didn’t go in, grabbing the rebound. “Everybody wants to shoot but we just need a guy that will go get us a second chance and he [Weyiouanna] got us that chance,” Callahan said.
Seniors Deacon Callahan, Son Erikson, Joe Martinson, Alfred Omedelina, Jon Smith, and managers Isaiah Marble and Mike Marvin are the backbone of the team. Sticking with the team, accepting the play time they can get and providing support on and off the bench is essential to the team culture the Nanooks so strongly possess. “Without those guys on our bench, in our corner and in our locker room, we wouldn’t have gotten it done,” Callahan said.


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