Rori Leaverton digs for a return against Kenny Lake, and Hannah O’Daniel serves in one of the games at State. Molly Dischner

Panthers play best volleyball despite State losses


ANCHORAGE – “This was the best volleyball we’ve ever played,” said Cindy O’Daniel, Skagway’s head coach, at the end of the Alaska School Activities Association state volleyball tournament.
Skagway competed in the small schools competition in Anchorage Dec. 8 and 9 at Dimond High School. While the team didn’t place, they improved from the first game to the last, and ended its season on a high note.
Day one, the Panthers played Kenny Lake, and lost in three games. Skagway barely let Kenny Lake have the first game, holding the Eagles to a two-point defeat, but didn’t rally enough to take either the second or third games.
Rori Leaverton was named Skagway’s player of the match. She was among the starting six who played without substitutions, though they got a few one-minute, time-out breaks each game. Leaverton made a number of plays crucial to keeping Skagway in the game.
Day two, the Panthers gave Kalskag Grizzlies a run for its money, winning the second game 26-24 and narrowly losing the third 24-26 before the Grizzlies took the match in four games. Kalskag went on to take fourth place in the state after defeating Lumen Christi in a close five games.
Despite the loss, the Panthers were on their toes through the whole match.
“I think they just came out with more intensity, a little more confidence,” said O’Daniel, who has coached the team to state the past five years.
Senior Jayce Ellis, a team captain, said she thought the last match was a good one. She was named Skagway’s player of the match on the second day.
“Our coaches have been harping on that 10-line all year, and we had some of our best plays on that 10-foot line (today),” Ellis said.
O’Daniel agreed.
“They did a really good job of setting the ball up and getting good hits, good attacks,” O’Daniel said.
At the end of the final game, which the Panthers lost 25-17, coaches and players agreed that their performance improved through the season.
“I’m just very proud of all of them,” O’Daniel said. “They’ve improved a bunch.”
Fellow Southeast team Klawock defeated Kenny Lake in the third match to win the state championship.
For some Panthers, the Kalskag game was the end of their Skagway career, not just the end of the season. The team is loosing three seniors – Rori Leaverton, Anna Korsmo and Jayce Ellis.
Leaverton made the All-Tournament team, an honor that went to just 12 players, and not someone from every team.
O’Daniel said all three will be missed. That feeling goes both ways.
“It’s tough, but the team made it a great season,” Ellis said. “…It was a fine last match to end on.”

Girls coach Laura Labesky works with her team on an offensive set, and boys coach Mark Jennings shows players how to get open on an inbounds play. Jeff Brady


Early opener for Panther hoop teams in Juneau; SHS girls poised for another run to State, boys ‘pesky’ and ready for challenge


With just a few days of practice locked in, the Skagway High School basketball teams began the season early this week in the Holiday Hoops Tourney at Juneau’s Thunder Mountain High School.
The first games were Monday night after this issue’s deadline. Check the 2011-12 SHS Basketball Page on the News website for updated scores and stats, and a complete schedule.
The News visited a practice last week to check out this season’s edition of the Panthers.
The two-time defending state champion girl’s team lost a trio of all-state caliber players to graduation, but two members of the starting five are back, along with underclassmen who were key members off the bench during both state title runs.
Suiting up for the Lady Panthers are: seniors Jayce Ellis, Anna Korsmo and Rori Leaverton; juniors Polly Brown and Amanda Hoover; sophomores Jade Cook and Hannah O’Daniel; and freshman Zoe Wassman.
The team is co-coached again by Laura Labesky and Mark Jennings.
“They look pretty good, “ Jennings said, three days after getting the team back from the state volleyball tourney. “The seniors are good leaders so that will be good. We’re still not that deep, but we never have been deep. I think we can compete for region title.”
He said the team has always been solid defensively, and sees the returning seniors as the core of the offense. Leaverton was all-state and Korsmo all-conference last year and present a great outside-inside punch. And Ellis is ready to shine in her senior year.
“Jayce’s tough on the inside and has been steady in there,” Labesky said. “She gets the ball and she doesn’t lose it.
Also starting will be Brown and O’Daniel who will be looked to for points from the perimeter.
“If the younger kids like Polly and Hannah can knock those down, we’ll be tough,” Jennings said, and Cook, Hoover and Wassman will be utilized as well.
After losing state 2A player of the year Jesse Ellis (now a star for Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Wash.) and all-state running mates Kaylie O’Daniel and Kaitlyn Surdyk to graduation, the Lady Panthers might have expected a letdown. But Jennings said the returning members did well at a team camp in Palmer over the summer.
“They got some wins up there, which boosted their confidence,” he said. “This Juneau tourney is kind of a confidence builder, and then we get the Ketchikan varsity.”
In Juneau, the teams will play in a round-robin format the first day and a half and then a single elimination tourney. There will be jayvee teams from Thunder Mountain and Juneau, along with the Angoon and Wrangell varsity.
The Lady Panthers received a late invite to the Clark Cochrane Christmas Classic in Ketchikan Dec. 27-30, where they will open against the 4A Kayhi Kings. Several 3A and 4A teams from Alaska and Washington will be there, making it a tough tournament, but the girls have fared well against big schools the past two seasons.
The goal is to make the girls better. The coaches expect that Klawock could be their toughest competition for a region title, and Yakutat, though young, is always a threat.
“We really want to hang one more banner up there,” Jennings said.

Jennings takes over boy’s program

Jennings will be doing double-duty this year as coach of the boy’s squad, and he expects them to be in the running, if they can improve their defense.
“They are work in progress,” he said. “They’ve got some talent. They are probably the fastest boy’s team I’ve had in a long time.”
The team consists of seniors Danny Moore and Blake Fletcher; juniors Nick Ackerman, Airk Cochran and KC Mayo; sophomores Zack Wassman, Donovan Henson and Clark Germishuys; and freshman Trysten Burnham.
“They’re pretty good in transition and that’s something you don’t usually get right away. Our biggest hiccup is defense…. They really have to work defensively to get back to being a tough out.”
John O’Daniel will be assisting Jennings this year, and has been working with the kids on their defensive slides. Alumni Rick Ackerman and Kyle Fairbanks also have been on the court for practices.
The boys will get their first test on a big court in Juneau this week, working mostly on man-to-man defense, and some zone later on.
Offense shouldn’t be a problem. Moore has been a good point generator his entire career, and now the team adds Fletcher, who was a member of a two-time state champion team in Vermont before moving to Skagway.
“Blake can really shoot from the outside and is good all-around, and Airk and Nick are kind of savvy around the basket,” Jennings said.
The sophomore edition of Wassman is much taller and will be the team’s point guard.
“He’s quick and he has a pretty good shot, “ Jennings said. “It’s a lot like his dad’s shot.”
Jennings said he likes the team’s hustle.
“They’re pesky,” he said. “They’ve been fun to work with so far. There will be some other tough teams in the region and hopefully we will be right in the pack. It just depends on how fast we can pick it up defensively.”
Jennings said two-time region champ Klawock lost a strong senior class, so Yakutat will probably be the region favorite with a lot of talent coming in, and both Thorne Bay and Hydaburg return strong line-ups.
After the Juneau tournament, in which they could see both Hydaburg and Angoon along with Juneau teams, the Panther boys will next see action at the Don Hather Memorial Tournament here against Whitehorse competition on Jan. 5-7, and more home games against Angoon Jan. 9-10.
As for coaching two teams, Jennings said he feels like he is living at the gym.
“The thing I didn’t expect was dealing with double the amount of parents,” he joked.