Koonuk helps power Aniak to first title in 19 years

The Alaska Airlines Center erupts with cheers as the Aniak Lady Halfbreeds celebrate with a victory hug after defeating last year's runner up, the Selawik Wolves, 55-44. Photo by Greg Lincoln

by Tommy Wells

Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s Class 1A state championship game, the Aniak Halfbreeds found themselves in need of some energy. Over the previous three minutes, the Selawik Lady Wolves had erased a 9-point deficit and looked prime to make a run.

Shauna Koonuk made sure they never got the chance.

The Aniak senior delivered the shots that was rocked around the Y-K Delta. And brought Aniak its first state title in 19 years.

With just over 42 seconds left in the third quarter, Koonuk ended an 11-4 run by Selawik that had pulled the Lady Wolves to within 34-32 by pulling up from the wing and finding nothing but the bottom of a net on a three-point try. The basket was the first of three straight baskets she scored and all but vaulted the Lady Halfbreeds to a 55-44 victory in front of a large crowd at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

“I felt like our team needed a spark,” said Koonuk, a former standout at Point Hope who moved to Aniak after her junior year. “We had to get into back into the rhythm so we pumped each other up and remembered why we were there. We worked hard and pulled through with the win.”

Selawik, which finished as the Class 1A state runner-up for the second year in a row, created plenty of tension early in the third quarter. After falling behind by a 30-21 margin, Marjorie Hingsbergen and Laura Ramoth brought the Lady Wolves back. Hingsbergen led a 9-2 run midway through the period by hitting a three-pointer. Moments later, Ramoth went inside for basket that pulled Selawik to within two.

Hingsbergen scores seven of her 11 points in the frame.

Koonuk found the perfect answer. After delivering a three-point shot that gave Aniak a bit of breathing room, at 37-32, she finished off the third quarter with a driving layup that sent the Lady Halfbreeds into the final eight minutes of play up 39-32. She finished her 7-0 spree just seconds into the fourth with a shot that pushed Aniak’s lead to nine, at 41-32.

Overall, Koonuk pumped in 12 of her game-high 19 points in the final 16 minutes of play. She also finished with a team-leading eight rebounds and six assists.

Kayla Morgan followed moments later with a bucket that inflated the team’s lead to double figures, at 43-32.

Selawik made one final run at Aniak midway through the fourth. Kali Howarth followed Morgan’s shot with a pair of quick baskets. Her shots from inside the paint pulled the Lady Wolves to within seven, at 43-36, with just under five minutes left.

Alyssa Morgan, one of four seniors of the AHS roster, drove the final nail into Selawik from there. The 5-foot-5 guard nailed back-to-back shots over the ensuing 1:30 of play, including a three-point bomb from the corner, that pushed Aniak to a 12-point lead. She bailed a second fourth-quarter three-pointer with less than a minute left to all but seal the team’s first state title since 1999.

One of four Lady Halfbreed players to finish the game with double-digit performances, Morgan finished just three rebounds shy of a double-double, with 13 points and seven boards.

Selawik, which fell in the state finals a year ago to Scammon Bay, more than held its own early on. After Miranda Peterson has staked Aniak to a quick lead with a game-opening three-pointer, the Lady Wolves fought their way back. Hingsbergen and Ramoth gave Selawik a brief 9-5 lead midway through the first period by combining on a 7-2 run.

Aniak roared back over the final two minutes of the frame, scoring twice to knot the game at 9-9 at the end of the initial eight minutes of action.

The Lady Halfbreeds, who played the game in memory of Bruce “Gotor” Morgan, a member of the boys’ 2011 state championship team that passed in August, rode their fast finish to the first quarter – and an aggressive defense – to complete domination in the second. Aniak, which forced Selawik into seven turnovers at the end of the first and start of the second quarters, blew the game open with an 18-10 spree in the second and took a 27-19 lead into the half.

“We stepped up our defense and let go of all the laziness and worked extra hard,” said Koonuk, who had earned all-state tournament honors in 2016 en route with Point Hope. “Defense is an important factor within our team and we believe that’s how we won.”

As a team, Aniak forced Selawik into 19 turnovers in the contest.

Kayla Morgan ignited the Lady Halfbreeds’ second-quarter barrage quickly. After Selawik had committed its second turnover, she nailed a three-pointer. Peterson followed moments later with a shot that staked Aniak to a lead it would never relinquish.

Morgan finished the game with 11 points and eight rebounds.

Skye Morgan finished off the Lady Halfbreeds’ second-quarter run, coming off the bench to hit a three-point shot that sent Aniak into the half with an eight-point lead.

The loss spoiled a tremendous effort from Selawik’s Kali Howarth. She led the Lady Wolves on both end of the court, finishing with 16 points and a game-high 23 rebounds.

As huge as the Lady Halfbreeds’ victory over Selawik was, it might have been the second-most important game Aniak played in the tournament. Aniak’s win over defending Class 1A state champion Scammon Bay on Friday in the semifinal round will likely go down in history as an instant classic. The Lady Halfbreed defense forced Scammon Bay into 10 first-half turnovers and then came up huge late in a 52-47 decision that vaulted Aniak into the state finals and ended the Scammon Bay’s two-year stranglehold on the state title.

Kayla Morgan left the top-seeded Lady Eagles stunned early. After Hayley Akerelrea had opened the game with a free throw, Morgan keyed a 10-0 run by the Lady Halfbreeds by pushing home key shots.

Scammon Bay’s Alma Smith got the Lady Eagles off the floor late in the first. She scored the final two baskets of the period, including a three-pointer, and hauled her team to within 10-6 at the start of the second.

The AHS defense flexed its muscle in the second. The Lady Halfbreeds outscored Scammon Bay by a 15-9 margin in the frame and took a 25-15 into the half.

The Lady Eagles rallied back in the third. Scammon Bay reeled off a 12-5 run over the first five minutes and cut Aniak’s lead to three, at 30-27, on a shot by Almira Kaganak.

Aniak, which had lost once to Scammon Bay during the regular season, recovered from there. Morgan, Koonuk and Peterson combined for six of the ensuing eight points and stretched the AHS lead to nine, at 38-29, with less than a minute left in the third.

Morgan powered the Lady Halfbreeds’ efforts against Scammon. She finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Koonuk also tallied 14 points.

Peterson and Alyssa Morgan also reach double figures offensively for Aniak. Peterson chalked up 12 points and nine boards, while Morgan collected 10 points and a team-high three assists.

Akerelrea led Scammon Bay with 16 points. Kaganak added 10.

Aniak kicked off its title run on Wednesday with a rousing 81-38 rout of Hydaburg. In the win, the Lady Halfbreeds, outscored Hydaburg by a 49-21 margin in the first half and never looked back.

Koonuk, Alyssa Morgan and Kayla Morgan all starred for Aniak in the romp. Koonuk finished with a game-high 26 points to go along with eight rebounds, eight assists and seven steals. Alyssa posted 18 points and seven rebounds, while Kayla posted 14 points and nine boards.

Tori Simeon and Peterson almost reached double figures in the win. Simeon tallied nine points, while Peterson added eight.

The win over Hydaburg sent the Lady Halfbreeds into the quarterfinals to face off with another Y-K powerhouse, St. Mary’s.

Despite a game-high 25 points from St. Mary’s standout Danessa Evan, the Lady Halfbreeds rolled to an easy 84-54 victory.

Four Aniak starters finished in double figures, including Koonuk, who scored 24 points while also grabbing seven rebounds and notching a team-best seven steals. Kayla Morgan also surpassed the 20-point plateau with 21 points. Alyssa Morgan and Peterson added 17 and 16, respectively.

Alyssa Morgan also posted 13 rebounds.

Scammon Bay rebounded from its loss to Aniak in fine fashion. They Lady Eagles rode a stellar first-half performance from Almira Kaganak on Saturday to a resounding 68-50 victory over King Cove in the third-place game.

Kaganak scored 14 of her game-high 26 points in the first 16 minutes of the game and helped the Lady Eagles streak to a commanding 32-21 halftime lead.

Smith also reached double figures in the win, netting 11. Akerelrea and Misty Sundown added nine and six, while Tilly Titus chipped in four.

The Lady Eagles opened the tournament a pair of easy victories, downing New Stuyahok and Tri-Valley in the first two rounds of action.

Against New Stuyahok, Scammon Bay picked up points from 10 different players en route to claiming an 88-45 victory. Akerelrea and Almira Kaganak led the SBHS assault with 23 and 22 points, respectively. Alma Smith tallied nine, while Adam Kaganak and Sabrina Rivers chipped in eight apiece. Justina Wilson finished with six, while Anecia Rivers and Titus added four each. Rita Uttereyuk and Sundown contributed two.

Akerelrea and Almira Kaganak paced the Lady Eagles’ 65-41 win over Tri-Valley on Thursday. Akerelrea posted 22 points in the win, while Kaganak notched 17 points and a team-best seven steals. Anecia Rivers added six points and 12 rebounds.

Adam Kaganak also scored six.

The Toksook Bay Lady Islanders also made an appearance at the state tournament, going 1-2 overall.

The Lady Islanders, despite 12 points from Francine Pitka, dropped their opener on Wednesday, falling by a 53-38 margin to second-seeded King Cove.

On Thursday, the Toksook Bay girls picked up a double-double from Payton Chanar and rolled to a 53-35 victory over Lumen Christi.

Chanar finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Catherine Lincoln and Josephine Chakuchin also reached double figures in the win. Lincoln led all TB scorers with 18 points, Chakuchin added 12.

The Lady Islanders’ run came to an end on Friday with a 41-23 setback to Ninilchik in the consolation semifinals.

Lincoln led all scorers against Ninilchik with eight points. Sammie Pitka added seven, while Chanar keyed the defense with seven steals.