by K.J. Lincoln
The winners of the 31st annual 1A Coastal Conference basketball tournament are the Kipnuk Falcon boys and the Toksook Bay Islander girls.
The tournament took place last weekend, March 1-3 at the Home of the Warriors in Bethel. Eight boys teams and eight girls teams came to the event advancing after their league tournaments. For the Midcoast League on the boys side there was top-seeded Kipnuk, and the Kwigillingok Eagles. Island League sent Toksook Bay, the Chefornak Shamans, and the Newtok Jaegers. The Kusko Delta League had Kasigluk-Akiuk, Nunapitchuk, and Tuntutuliak.
On the girls side there was Kipnuk, Kwigillingok, and Kongiganak, for Midcoast; Newtok – last year’s champion, and Toksook Bay for the Island League, and Kwethluk, Nunapitchuk, and Kasigluk-Akiuk for Kusko Delta.
The Kipnuk team, coached by Jacob Byrley and assistant coach Benjamin Farber, came out on top to represent the Alaska Coastal Conference at the State 1A Basketball Finals in Anchorage. They defeated the Newtok Jaegers in the first round, 63-50.
The girls champion, the Islanders, defeated the Kwig Lady Eagles, 66-40, on opening night. The Islanders are coached by Frank Pitka and assistant Nellie Charles.
For the boys, the Chefornak Shamans, Nunapitchuk Wolves, and the Toksook Islanders joined Kipnuk in advancing to the semifinals.
The Kipnuk Falcons, Newtok Jaegers, and the Kasigluk-Akiuk girls teams also advanced to the next round. The teams fought hard. The battle between the Kwig Eagle and Nunap Wolves was close, 40-37. And the Kipnuk Falconettes defeated a tough Kwethluk team, 59-55.
On Thursday night, the WarriorDome was packed with fans who cheered on their hometeams and their other favorites. KYUK, the local radio station, aired the games along with postgame interviews with players for those listening back home.
The Lower Kuskokwim Journalism class also took photos of the games and also featured a popular photo booth. The LKSD I.T. Department helped air the games online through the Cube, allowing fans in the villages and everywhere else to view the games.
On Friday afternoon the semifinals began with the Kipnuk Falcons taking on the Chefornak Shamans, their nearby neighbor. Kipnuk won in a thriller, 50-47, to advance to the championship game.
The crowd was brought to its feet during the barn burner of a game between the Toksook Bay Islanders and the Nunapitchuk Wolves. The Wolves, coached by Wassillie Frank, defeated the Islanders 52-51. The Nunap team made history by advancing to the finals for the first time in the 31 years of the tournament.
For the girls, it was the 2017 champions, the Newtok Lady Jaegers who defeated Kipnuk 61-59 to advance to the championship round. In double overtime, the Jaegers fought hard for another chance to go to State.
The final game for Friday was between the Toksook Islander girls and the Kasigluk-Akiuk Grizzly team, coached by Pete Schneidler. The Islanders won, 59-49. The Lady Grizzlies went on to place 3rd, defeating the Kipnuk team.
Hungry and thirsty fans from cheering were kept hydrated and refreshed courtesy of the 2017 State Wrestling Bethel Warrior Champion Team. Carts of food and drinks made their rounds through the packed gym so fans wouldn’t have to leave their seats and miss the action.
Security and crowd support was provided the Alaska Army National Guard. Volunteers manned the admissions station throughout the tournament. Announcing the games were the steady voices of Palmer Bailey of the KYKD Radio Station and Les Daenzer, all the way from Virginia, who received a warm welcome home.
On the final day of the tournament fans returned in droves to cheer on their teams. Sledloads and truckloads of visitors poured into Bethel from the surrounding villages to watch the final games. During a break in the action, the Coastal Villages Region Fund had a throwing party. They threw t-shirts into the screaming and waving crowd, which everyone enjoyed.
The final scores were Kipnuk 51 and Nunap 23 for the boys. Co-captain Keoni Aliralria scored 18 points for the Falcons with eight of those points in the 3rd quarter. Jesse Dock-Paul had 10 and Arthur Paul and Jaden Anaver both had 8.
This is the Kipnuk boys third trip to State. They first went in 1993 and again in 1994.
Andrew Frank of Nunapitchuk scored 8, with two three pointers. His teammate and captain Anthony Sallison scored 6 during the championship game.
Josephine Chakuchin, a senior, scored 13 for the Islanders in their final contest against the Newtok Jaegers. Payton Chanar and Catherine Lincoln both posted 11 for the girls. The Lady Islanders have been to the State tournament first in 1989, then again in 1997, 2004, and 2016.
For Newtok, Mikayla Kassaiuli scored 15 with 9 coming via 3-pointers. Her teammate Ashley Tom scored 9 all by 3s but was unfortunately sidelined due to an injury midgame. The Jaegers limited the Islanders to only 3 points in the third quarter, but it was not enough to overcome the Islander offense. The nailbiter game ended 44-40 with the Islanders victorious.
The Kipnuk Falcons and the Lady Islanders of Toksook Bay will be headed to State, March 14-17, 2018. Their games will be at the Alaska Airlines Center.
1A Coastal Conference Tournament Results
1st Toksook Bay Islanders
2nd Newtok Jagers
3rd Kasigluk-Akiuk Grizzlies
Sportsmanship: Kwigillingok Lady Eagles
Academic Award: Nunapitchuk Wolves, 3.72 GPA
Free Throw Contest
1st Nadine Kiunya, Kipnuk Falcons
2nd Stephanie Wassillie, Kasigluk-Akiuk
Hot Shot Contest
1st Leah Demientieff, Kasigluk-Akiuk
2nd Elsa Tinker, Kongiganak Wolverines
Amber Alexie, Kwethluk
Alaina Tinker, Kasigluk-Akiuk
Anna Kashatok, Kipnuk
Albina Andy, Newtok
Josephine Chakuchin, Toksook Bay
Chantal Snyder, Kwigillingok
Janna Pavilla, Kwethluk
Haley Aliralria, Kipnuk
Mikayla Kassaiuli, Newtok
Leah Demientieff, Kasigluk-Akiuk
1st Kipnuk Falcons
2nd Nunapitchuk Wolves
3rd Chefornak Shamans
Sportsmanship: Kwigillingok Eagles
Academic Award: Nunapitchuk Wolves, 3.52 GPA
Free Throw Contest
1st Anthony Sallison, Nunapitchuk
2nd Arliss Andrew, Kwigillingok
Hot Shot Contest
1st Arnold Phillip, Kwigillingok
2nd Henry Charles, Kasigluk-Akiuk
Jaden Anaver, Kipnuk
Douglas John, Newtok
Justin Kassel, Kasigluk-Akiuk
Anthony Sallison, Nunapitchuk
Keoni Aliralria, Kipnuk
Thomas Thomas, Tuntutuliak
Mykell White, Toksook Bay
Dennis Panruk, Chefornak
Jesse Dock-Paul, Kipnuk
Henry Charles, Kasigluk-Akiuk
“Thank you to everyone for coming to the 31st annual tournament,” said LKSD Student Activities Director Sharon Wegner. “Thanks to all the volunteers who helped out. And lastly to all the students and players – look at how many of you who stay eligible throughout the season, thank you!”