Kipnuk Falcons and Newtok Jaegers champions at Coastal Conference tournament

by K.J. Lincoln

The Kipnuk Falcon boys and the Newtok Lady Jaegers will be returning to represent the Coastal Conference at the upcoming State 1A Basketball Tournament.

Winning two years in a row, the Falcons, defeated the Napaskiak Hawks 64-44. The 2017 girls champions, the Newtok Jaegers, defeated the Kipnuk Lady Falcons, 39-21.

Winning the coveted Sportsmanship Awards were the Chefornak Shaman team for the boys and the Atmautluak Falcons for the girls.

The Chefornak Lady Falcons won the Academic Award with their combined average GPA of 3.47. For the boys, it was the Kipnuk Falcons with their GPA of 3.39.

Bethel was bursting with visitors from villages and towns all over Alaska who came to cheer on their favorite teams. Fans lined up early before the doors were unlocked to find the best seats in the house.

A special tribute was given to Kipnuk Falcon Keoni Aliralria who is currently battling cancer. Last year he led his beloved team to win the 2018 Coastal Conference championship. At state that year, Aliralria was named to the All Tournament Team. Supporters wore blue KeoStrong #5 t-shirts to show their support to him and his family.

During a break in between the championship games, Carlton Kuhns, the Assistant Superintendent for the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD), was honored for his over four decades of service to the students and communities of the delta. He is retiring this year. Kuhns is the grandfather who created the Coastal Conference tournament back in 1988. Robert Panruk of Chefornak, who has been coaching for many years and Josh Gill, tournament emcee and Director of Personnel and Student Services, presented him with a photo collage of that first tournament. Panruk did a walkaround in the gym to show everyone the historic photos.

Kuhns was also granted an honorary ASAA Lifetime Gold Pass to all ASAA sponsored local and state events for him and a guest. ASAA Director Billy Strickland presented him with this award.

Here are opening round first day results:


Chefornak Shamans 74 – Kasigluk/Akula 71

Kipnuk Falcons 64 – Nunapitchuk Wolves 30

Toksook Bay Islanders 82 – Quinhaga Seahawks 66

Napaskiak Hawks 78 – Newtok Jaegers 65


Kipnuk Falcons 52 – Toksook Bay Islanders 42

Tuntutuliak BlueJays 62 – Kasigluk/Akiuk 49

Chefornak Shamans 26 – Atmautluak Falcons 25

Newtok Jaegers 60 – Kwigillingok Eagles 47

In semifinal action on day 2, the Kipnuk Falcons led by Head Coach Jacob Byrley and Assistant Coach Benjamin Farber narrowly beat the tough as nails Chefornak Shamans by 1 point, final score 56 Kipnuk, 55 Chefornak. Kipnuk advanced to the championship round to the joy of Kipnuk fans.

The Napaskiak Hawks defeated the Toksook Bay Islanders in an incredible overtime thriller. At the end of the fourth quarter, the Islanders were down by 3. Wilson Pitka made a last effort by shooting from behind the 3 point line. The shot banked in and the Islanders were still in the game. In relief and happiness to still have the win in sight, the Islanders piled up in celebration.

This was the only OT during the whole tournament for the boys bracket. The Hawks, coached by Head Coach Shawn Larson and Assistant Coach Joe Bavilla, won 66-61 in overtime, to advance to the championship round against the reigning champions, the Kipnuk Falcons. The Hawks mascot had fun dancing and entertaining the crowd during breaks in the game.

The other overtime came during the first round of the girls bracket during the game between the Chefornak Shamans and the Atmautluak Falcons, coached by Head Coach Heather Egoak and Assistant Coach Louisa Pavilla. In a low-scoring game, the Shamans won by one, 26-25.

Shaman coaches Eva and Robert Panruk prepared their team for a tough matchup with the Newtok Jaegers in the semifinals. Newtok won 29-25 and advanced to the championship round.

The other semifinal girls game was between the Kipnuk Falcons and the Tuntutuliak Bluejays. Kipnuk, coached by Head Coach Naomi Paul and Assistant Coach Jason Luebs, took the lead early on and maintained it, winning 50-31.

The girls championship teams took to the court first. Newtok’s staggering defense kept Kipnuk to only 4 points in the second and fourth quarters. The score was 12 Newtok, 11 Kipnuk at the half.

Newtok’s shooters made 5 successful three point shots to Kipnuk’s one. Head Coach Jimmy Charles and Assistant Coach Zenia Andy cheered on their team to another 1A victory. The final score was Newtok 39 – Kipnuk 21.

During breaks in basketball action, Coastal Villages Region Fund kept everyone on their toes with their t-shirt throws into the crowd. The BRHS concessions team kept fans hydrated and refreshed with snacks and food throughout the 3-day event. By Saturday night, everything was all sold out.

The Alaska Army National Guard held a special ceremony to honor two of their retirees. And LKSD Speech winner Jakob Sipary of Napaskiak regaled the audience with his award-winning speech, which is featured on page 6 of this publication.

In conclusion of the 32nd Annual Coastal Conference, awards were presented to the players and teams by LKSD’s Director of Student Activities Sharon Wegner. She thanked LKSD’s media team for all the online coverage of the games, KYUK for radio coverage, and to all the volunteers for their help. She congratulated all the student athletes for maintaining their grades and being eligible and to all the coaches for their hard work.

Folks mingled and took photos in the WarriorDome after the awards while players cleaned up the bleachers in time for school on Monday.

The winners of this tournament will be playing at the 1A State Tournament March 13-16, 2019 in Anchorage at the Alaska Airlines Center. KYKD Radio’s Palmer Bailey provided the voice for the 1A Coastal Conference with his announcing of the games. He will also be announcing at the State tournament with his comforting familiar voice.