Kotzebue doubles down in claiming Showdown titles
The rivalry that played out Saturday night in the Nome-Beltz gym might not quite match the status of the Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears or the Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees, but when the Nome-Beltz Nanooks and the Kotzebue Huskies meet each winter, bragging rights for Western Alaska’s top basketball team are at stake.
The first 2017 encounters between the two 3A rival schools occurred before a jam-packed Nome-Beltz gym as they played in the Nanooks’ premier home tournament - the annual Subway Showdown on January 5-7. Both the Huskies girls and boys squads were able to turn back three challengers during the three-day event, and run the table on the way to taking first place in their respective divisions.
High School Girls
The penultimate game of the weekend was the Saturday night girls game, which pitted the Lady Nanooks against the Lady Huskies. Kotzebue opened the contest with a swarming, full court press, forcing the Nome girls into multiple turnovers.
Aggressive play by the Huskies six-foot sophomore center Alanna Conwell helped Kotzebue score their first four points from the free throw line. But it was the hot shooting of junior Calia Sieh, who followed up an early two-point field goal with a pair of three pointers, that helped the Huskies establish an early lead. Junior Kerry Ahmasuk led the way for the Nanooks with six first quarter points and her team exited the first frame down 16-9.
Sieh connected on another trey to start the scoring in the second quarter, as the Huskies established their first ten-point lead. Kotzebue junior Payton McConnell helped her team enter the locker room at intermission up 34-17, by scoring on a quick put back after grabbing an offensive rebound with 22 seconds remaining.
The Huskies relaxed their full-court press in the second half and still extended their lead to a game high 19 points.
The Nanooks displayed some stingy defense of their own as they held the Huskies to five, third quarter points. Sophomore Kastyn Lie hit a big basket at 3:24 to pull the Nanooks within 12. Freshman guard Lisa Okbaok, who had been held to two, first-half points, came alive after that. Her layup off a steal at 3:08 helped cap a 9-0 Nanooks run, cutting the Huskies’ lead to 10 points at 36-26.
Okbaok scored the last two points of the third quarter, and made her eighth straight for the Nanooks with her driving layup to start the fourth. This breathed life into the Nome team as worked to trim the lead down to seven points at 39-32.
But just as the Nanooks found a way to quiet Sieh and Alanna Conwell, up stepped Kotzebue junior Caitlyn Conwell, who had been held in check with only one first-half field goal. As the Huskies patiently moved the ball around the court during the fourth quarter they resembled the old North Carolina Four Corners delay offense, chewing valuable time off the clock. As her teammates passed around the perimeter, Caitlyn Conwell was able to slip underneath the Nanooks defense on three occasions for scores. Conwell’s seven fourth-quarter points helped Kotzebue secure the 50-38 win.
Buoyed by five, three-pointers, Sieh was the Huskies top scorer with 17 points. Okbaok led the Nanooks with 12 points.
After the loss, Nanooks head coach Don Stiles said he was happy with his squad’s effort. He stated that they continue to get better as a team, but will need to improve their rebounding and will work to cut down on turnovers.
“Nome gave us a good game,” said Sieh after the contest. “Their defense if really good. They made us play our best. There wasn’t a time where we could relax.”
The Lady Nanooks defeated the Unalakleet Lady Wolfpack 75-13 on Thursday, and came away with a 45-21 win over the Delta Lady Huskies on Friday. Nome placed second in the tournament and brought their season record to 3-2. Delta was the third-place team and Unalakleet took fourth.
High School Boys
The Nome-Beltz boys took on their counterparts from Kotzebue on Saturday night after the girls game. Tenacious defense on the parts of both squads resulted in a first quarter scoring drought with the Huskies finishing on top 4-2.
The low scoring extended into the next frame as Kotzebue held a late, second-quarter lead at 15-8. Nome senior Mikey Scott scored a three-pointer with one second on the clock to help Nome cut the lead to 15-11 before the break.
The second half was all Huskies, as senior Bish Gallahorn led the way with four third quarter field goals. Kotzebue held Nome to eight points in the frame, and blanked them in the fourth quarter as they took the game 40-19.
Gallahorn led his team with 18 points, and senior Tye Ramoth chipped in nine. Sophomore Gareth Hansen led Nome with eight points.
The Huskies went undefeated and won their first Showdown title. The Nanooks were winless on the weekend, and saw their record drop to 1-4 on the season.
After the game Huskies head coach Craig McConnell, whose experienced squad received scoring contributions from five seniors, commented of the cyclical nature of high school basketball. He remembers that when his upperclassmen were beginning their careers, they were getting beaten soundly by the more experienced teams from Nome.
The boys from Unalakleet concluded play this weekend in second place and earned a spot in the “best western boys team” discussion. The Wolfpack opened tournament play on Thursday by beating the Nanooks 51-38, behind junior Arctic Ivanoff’s 12-point effort. Unalakleet fell to the Kotzebue Huskies 63-36 on Friday.
During Saturday’s second-place game against the Delta Huskies, the Wolfpack presented a balanced attack, which featured five players scoring at least eight points. In beating Delta 61-54, they were led again led by Ivanoff, who scored 17. During their run to second place in the tournament standings, the smaller, 2A Wolfpack knocked off two, larger, 3A teams.
When asked about the difference in student populations at the respective schools, Unalakleet senior Taylor Harvey said, “It doesn’t really mean anything on the court. It’s just another team.”
Harvey says that after the Showdown the Wolfpack’s record stands at 5-2. He likes his team’s chances this year and says they recently took second place in a 16-team tournament against similar-sized schools.
Individual skills competitions take place each year at the Showdown. Winning the Free Throw Contest were Annalise Contreras and Aaron Motis of Nome. Taking first place in the Three-point Contest were Kerry Ahmasuk of Nome and Aidan Ivanoff of Unalakleet. The Hot Shot champions were Taeler Brunette of Nome and Seth Roetman of Kotzebue.
The girls MPV award went to Alanna Conwell of Kotzebue. The girls All-Tournament team was rounded out by Lisa Okbaok and EJ Rochon of Nome, Ashley Ramoth and Calia Sieh of Kotzebue, and Hailey Williams of Delta.
The boys MVP went to Tye Ramoth of Kotzebue. The remainder of the boys All-Tournament team was Mikey Scott of Nome, Bish Gallahorn of Kotzebue, Micah Helkenn of Delta, and Arctic Ivanoff and Taylor Harvey of Unalakleet.
The highest overall scorer during the three-day tournament was Micah Helkenn of Delta, who poured a combined 89 points. Bish Gallahorn had 53 for Kotzebue. The highest scorer for the girls was Nome’s Lisa Okbaok, who put in 42 total points. Kotzebue’s Alanna Conwell scored 41.
The Nanook boys and girls will host to teams from Dutch Harbor next weekend.