Nelson Islanders win 1A State Basketball Championship

by Greg Lincoln

The Nelson Islanders of Toksook Bay are the new 1A State basketball boys champions! They defeated the Golden Heart Conference winners and the top seed Tanana Wolves last Saturday in a nailbiter contest for the state crown.

This is the Islanders and Coach Simeon Lincoln’s first state victory and the first time since the state 1A boys crown has returned to the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta since 2011 when the Aniak Halfbreeds won. The Islanders now join the Kalskag Grizzlies (2009), the Napaskiak Hawks (2010), and the Aniak Halfbreeds (2011) as state champions. Congratulations!

They entered the tournament seeded #6.

The Islanders played the Tanalian Lynx of Port Alsworth, seeded #11th, during opening round of the State 1A finals at the cavernous confines of the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. The score at halftime was 29 Toksook, 24 Tanalian. End of the third quarter Toksook extended their lead to 50-39. Toksook won decisively 69-53.

Islander fans swooned. Their team advanced beyond the tough opening round stage.

The other Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region team to advance to the quarterfinals were the Scammon Bay Eagles boys team coached by Harley Sundown. Joining them to the quarterfinals were the Shishmaref Northern Lights, the Klawock Chieftains, Shaktoolik Wolverines, the Kivalina Qavviks, and #2 seed Lumen Christi Archangels of Anchorage.

On Day 2 the Islanders met the #3 seeded Shaktoolik Wolverines for another exciting game. The score at the end of the first quarter was Toksook 11, Shaktoolik 7. Toksook continued their lead into the half 37-26. The tough Shaktoolik team outscored the Islanders in the third quarter 23-20, the score at the end of the third was 57-49. The Wolverines again outscored the Islanders in the fourth making it a close game, Toksook won 79-73.

The Tanana Wolves team with seven players and coached by Tanner Winters, defeated the #9 seed the Shishmaref Northern Lights in a heartpounding contest. The game was tied at 11 at the end of the first quarter. By the end of the first half, Shishmaref led 33-25. The third quarter was low-scoring for both teams. Tanana had 8 and Shishmaref had 10, end of 3Q was 33 Tanana, 43 Shishmaref. In the fourth quarter the Wolves turned up the burner and sunk 20 points outscoring the Northern Lights who put in 7. The Wolves sealed the win 53-50 to the relief and joy of Coach Winters. Tanana would play the Scammon Bay Eagles, ranked #4, next in the semifinals.

Scammon Bay sent Nanwalek and Klawock to the consolation bracket in the opening round and quarterfinals.

Toksook Bay’s next game was with the 2021 State 1A champions, the Lumen Christi Archangels. The Archangels had defeated Alak and Kivalina in the two previous rounds and were looking for another state championship. The Islanders outscored and stunned the Archangels in the first three quarters: 19-13, 25-19, and 25-17. The score at the end of the third quarter was 69 Toksook – 49 Lumen Christi. In the fourth, the Archangels made three after three after three, sinking three in a row in desperation but could not overcome the Islanders even though they outscored them 30-15. The Islanders were victorious 84-79 and found themselves in the championship game with the most sought after team – the Tanana Wolves.

Earlier in the season the Tanana Wolves split a couple of games with Lumen Christi. On January 5th, 2022 the Archangels defeated the Wolves 63-56. February 5th, 2022 the two teams met again where Tanana defeated the Archangels by 16 points.

Tanana, in their section of the bracket, defeated the Scammon Bay Eagles 66-38 in their semifinal game. The Wolves dominated, outscoring the Eagles in all four quarters to win. Wolves’ defense kept Scammon Bay star Carson Long to only 3 points in the whole game which came via a 3 pointer. The Eagles fired 33 three-point shots in the game and made 5, Tanana shot 13 threes and three sunk. Scammon Bay who placed 5th overall were defeated by the Lumen Christi team who placed 3rd.

The final game of the tournament took place on Saturday afternoon, March 19th after the girls championship game between Newhalen and Klawock. Newhalen Lady Malemutes won the championship by one point. Toksook Bay and Tanana players were introduced through a fog screen to the adoring crowd.

The Nelson Islanders were behind by 3 at the end of the first quarter 15-12. Some stats are missing but at the end of the second half the Toksook Bay crowd sang the Blessing Song Tarvagnaumken for their players. Nelson Island fans on both sides of the court sang and danced, filling the gym with the sweet heartrending lyrics.

The second half of the game commenced and Toksook Bay had the lead nearing the end, Tanana sunk three three pointers but it was not enough to fill the point deficit. The Nelson Islanders won their first state championship, score was 51-47. Tanana put up a hard game but the shots were not going in.

Basketball fans rejoiced when

 the Bethel Regional High School Warrior boys hosted the Tanana Wolves back on January 7th, 2022 – the first game played at the WarriorDome since March 2020. Excited fans got their first glimpse of the return of basketball after a long couple years with no games and warmly welcomed the Tanana Wolves, they were a sight for sore eyes – the first team they had seen in a long couple of years.

The Aniak Halfbreed boys were defeated by the Newhalen Malemutes in the consolation bracket, 69-58, after their game with Tanana. The St. Mary’s Eagles lost to Shaktoolik in a close game, 59-57 on Day 1. The Eagles then won their next three games beating Tanalian 57-48, Alak 80-77, and Newhalen 66-58. St. Mary’s were the tournament’s consolation bracket winners.

Congratulations to the Nelson Islanders and the Tanana Wolves and all the state qualifyers who played on the biggest stage in 1A state basketball. All teams played their hearts out. Good job, you are all winners – both on and off the court, in your schools, your communities, and in your homes. Keep it up and we hope to see you again.

Toksook Bay Islanders