Kaitlyn Surdyk steals the ball from a surprised Klawock players, and John Doland makes a leaping pass in the lane against Hydaburg. Jeff Brady

Hoop teams off and running
No undefeated season for girls, State repeat a goal; boys looking to get healthy for final SE 2A run


By JEFF BRADY

The Skagway Panther teams have been hitting the hardwood since December as they strive to lock up strong tourney seeds in the Southeast 2A division.
This will be their last year at 2A, as low enrollment throughout the region has dropped all SE conference members into 1A for next year. This likely means that this will be the last year the region will send two small schools to state tournament.
The Skagway girls, with all of its starters back from last year’s historic 29-0 season, are looking to repeat as region and state 2A champions. However this year they will have to do it with some blemishes on their record. The girls dropped their first two games of the season to 4A Wasilla and West Valley in Fairbanks, but have since run off six straight wins over 3A Monroe, three Yukon teams and league rival Klawock.
The team is again co-coached by Lara Labesky and Mark Jennings, who split travel duties. Jennings accompanied the team to Fairbanks. When asked how the team has progressed since those early losses, he said they have definitely turned it around.
“It was kind of good to get the (undefeated) monkey off our back, but we did not play great up at Monroe,” Jennings said.
He said an injury to all-state forward Jesse Ellis hurt their chances against Wasilla, though they played the 4A power better than anyone, and fouls and poor shooting hurt them against West Valley. The game with Monroe was tighter.
“We shot 6-for-35 in the first half but played hard the whole time and won the game because of our hustle and defense,” he said. “Kaitlyn (Surdyk) hit the winning shot in the lane with three seconds left.”
He said that was the turning point, and the team has come together and is playing great. They won the Don Hather Tourney, and had a fairly easy time with Klawock.
The girls are now searching for someone to play at the end of January, anyone. Neither Hydaburg nor Hoonah, which are on the schedule, have girls’ teams, so the Lady Panthers have been trying to get some games with Haines next week, or play a Yukon team again. Jennings said other teams in SE also are struggling with numbers, so there may just be a four or five girls’ teams at region tourney this year.
The Lady Panthers are led by seniors Ellis, Surdyk and Kaylie O’Daniel, and juniors Rori Leaverton and Anna Korsmo. Off the bench, sophomore Polly Brown and junior Jayce Ellis have made contributions, along with freshmen Hannah O’Daniel and Jade Cook. And during the big home wins, the exchange students have been getting lots of minutes.
He said the last few practices have been great. Running every day against stellar alumni Savannah Ames and Courtney Mason is helping the team get better. And if there are no more games this month, they should be ready for some stiff competition at the Chevak Tournament Feb. 2-5. Labesky will be taking the team north this time for a tournament that will feature the host team, Yakutat, Scammon Bay, and Skagway.
“They roll out the red carpet for you, we’ve been told,” Jennings said. It starts with the school paying the visiting teams’ travel from Anchorage.
The Skagway boys also are going to Chevak, but first will travel to Hoonah this weekend.
The boys nearly made it to state last year. Despite losing five starters to graduation or other schools, they have a mix of seasoned and younger players who have shown progress. Early in the season, they have not all been injury-free at the same time, and the offense has not been consistent, but the hustle is there.
After losing its opener in the Don Hather Tourney against Porter Creek, the boys bounced back to beat Vanier. But they let a lead slip away in the final minutes against FH Collins, and fell hard at home to state runner-up Klawock. Against Hydaburg early this week, they had an off night and then responded with a solid second game but just couldn’t get closer than six points in the final minutes.
Coach Chris Wassman said that after a miserable first night against Hydaburg, with 18 turnovers and just 10 points in the first half, the team had to play better.
“We figured out what we needed to do,” he said.
He said he put it on his seniors to step up the second night, and they responded by making good passes, running their plays and rebounding better. They also threw several defenders at Hydaburg’s point guard to slow him down.
“They played a hard fought game,” Wassman said. “It was close. My seniors stepped up. They play better when pumped up.”
Senior guard John Doland and sophomore forward Nick Ackerman have emerged as the team scoring leaders. Both have been on fire in recent games. Seniors JR Madden and Devin Fairbanks have had some solid nights as starters along with emerging freshman Zack Wassman. Sophomore Airk Cochran has been steady off the bench and loves diving after loose balls. The injury bug has bitten junior Danny Moore (ankle), senior Bryce Jones (knee), and sophomore KC Mayo (ankle) early in the season, but Moore and Mayo were back for Hydaburg, and Jones could be ready for Hoonah.
With everyone healthy, they will then go up to Chevak with the mindset of bringing home a trophy, he said.

Above, during the Don Hather Tourney, Jesse Ellis did a Hawaiian dance for Homecoming, and Nick Ackerman shows his shooting stroke.

GAME SCORES through Jan. 18:
SHS Girls (6-2) – Skagway 62, Alumni 24 (exhibition); Wasilla 61, Skagway 33; West Valley 63, Skagway 44; Skagway 36, Monroe Catholic 34; Skagway 46, Porter Creek 30; Skagway 45, Vanier 29; Skagway 52, FH Collins 17; Skagway 63, Klawock 36; Skagway 51, Klawock 41.
SHS Boys (1-6) – Alumni 85, Skagway 59 (exhibition); Porter Creek 56, Skagway 36; Skagway 53, Vanier 41; FH Collins 41, Skagway 34; Klawock 85, Skagway 59; Klawock 83, Skagway 57; Hydaburg 62, Skagway 36; Hydaburg 70, Skagway 61.
See boxscores, tourney links and photo galleries on the SHS Basketball Page.