Basketball conferences merge in end-of-season tournament
March Madness got off to a strong start in Unalakleet last weekend as a unique combination of two classifications joined in four days of outstanding basketball competition and celebration. For the first time the 1A Bering Sea Conference combined their season-ending tournament with the 2A Great Northwest Conference to decide the teams that would represent them at the state tournament in Anchorage.
The previous weekend the 1A Bering Sea Conference had whittled down their numbers with two sub-regional tournaments in Teller (West) and Stebbins (East).
In Stebbins an exciting overtime thriller was won by the Shaktoolik Wolverines, led by senior Nathan Savetilik and the deadly backcourt of Everson Paniptchuk and Ethan Evan over their rivals, a deep Elim Eagle squad. In an upset the Stebbins Grizzlies thoroughly defeated both opponents to grab the girls East title.
In Teller, the Shishmaref Northern Lights girls came back to steal an overtime victory over their nemesis, the Teller Lady Aklaqs. The Teller boys overcame serious threats from both Gambell and Brevig Mission to grab the West title. Senior Ryan Topkok and cousin Jared Topkok led the Aklaqs to the top seed in the conference tournament. These four champions were joined by the second place teams in Unalakleet.
Little can match the excitement of high school basketball and the 1A tournament didn’t disappoint. After the opening day of comfortable margins of victory the championships didn’t disappoint. Senior Denise Fernandez came out strong in the second half and the Northern Lights came back from behind to defeat the Lady Aklaqs again, 42-38. The boys game was also a rematch of the East subregional between Shaktoolik and Elim and, again, it was tied at the end of regulation. This time, however, steady senior guard Devin “Bebo” Nakarak and Ralph Saccheus persevered and held off the Wolverines to claim the conference championship. In Saturday games to determine the second state qualifier, both Teller and Shaktoolik came back to win elimination games to join the champions.
In the 2A Great Northwest tournament a dominant Pt. Hope Harpoonerette squad came in as a heavy favorite, and a popular pick for a state title. They didn’t disappoint as the sophomore trio of All-Conference players Shauna Wells, Jordyn Lane and Terza Oviok dominated the Chevak Comets and held off a determined Unalakleet Lady Wolfpack to claim the championship. Unalakleet, led by senior Ada Harvey and spirited performances by freshman EJ Rochon and 8th grader Jewel Wilson fought back a challenge by the Hooper Bay girls to claim the second state qualifying spot.
The boys tournament was the place be if you are a fan of physical, fast tight contests. The top two seeds, Pt. Hope and Unalakleet, got past first round opponents to meet in the championships. The Harpooners had defeated the Wolfpack twice in regular season games in Pt. Hope but the Pack had finished the season strong and was now on its home court. Playing without their starting point guard Taylor Harvey the Unalakleet boys were already undermanned but the deafening support of the packed stands seemed to buoy them and they fought the Pt. Hope squad every step of the way. Down by one entering the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack dug deep and outscored their opponents 27-16 to claim the conference title. Sophomore guard Arctic Ivanoff (23 points) led the way and was assisted by a clutch nine fourth quarter points by senior Talon Erickson.
The Harpooners came back on Saturday to narrowly defeat a determined Chevak Comet squad for the second state berth.