High School Hoop Season is Here

The SHS basketball season starts Dec. 27 with the annual alumni games, followed by the Don Hather Invitational Jan. 9-11, and a league series at home versus Hydaburg Jan. 13-14. Below are previews of the Panther teams, which have been practicing since Dec. 2. – Stories & photos by Jeff Brady

Girls coach Jeff Kasler demonstrates a back screen to his team.

Girls reach high
Coach Kasler back where he started

A new coach with a familiar face will lead the Skagway girls’ basketball team this season. With hard work, the girls will try to hang a banner for him in his last year here.
It’s not unfamiliar territory. When Jeff Kasler came back to Skagway as a teacher 20 years ago, he became the girls’ basketball coach, leading the team to a region title. Two seasons later, the SHS alum moved to the boys, winning two more titles over a decade before stepping down from coaching and concentrating mainly on being the school’s activities director. But when the girls’ job came open this fall, he jumped at it, even though he had previously announced he would retire from the district next spring.
“I am absolutely thrilled,” Kasler said before a practice last week. “I haven’t felt this way about coaching in a long time. I needed the break, but now I love every minute in the gym with them.”
Kasler studied film of last year’s team, which finished strong for a fourth place finish under former coach Gary Trozzo, and said he can develop a strong team, but it will take time.
“I have a lot of energy to do as much as we can in one year, but we get to build around the best guard in 2A,” Kasler said. “Savannah (Ames) is a lot wiser than a sophomore.”
As a freshman, Ames (5’5”) was an All-Conference guard. Kasler says she can shoot, handle the ball, play defense, and rebound - “all as one person.”
Ames will be pushing the ball up the floor with the team’s other sophomore, Crystal Ketterman (5’5”). “There are none faster,” Kasler said of his guards. Senior Colleen Ketterman (5’8”) is the tallest girl on the team, so the squad will be based on speed.
Other seniors are Miranda Collecchi (5’4”) and Jenny Andrews (5’0”). There are no juniors, but in addition to the two sophomores are five freshmen, Candi Ketterman (5’8”), Tiffanie Potter (5’7”), Audrey Neitzer (5’6”), Michelle Harris (5’6”), and Madeleine Nyhagen (5’4”). Two may start.
“We will be very aggressive, so I’ve been stressing conditioning,” he said. “We have to be in the kind of shape to be doing things late in games.”
His aggressive man-to-man defense is geared to causing turnovers and getting the ball up the floor quickly on offense. The girls are working hard in practice to learn the new system.
“They are like sponges, they have to absorb a lot,” he said. “They have been supportive of each other and are pushing each other.”
But Kasler cautions that his young team will probably make a lot of mistakes early against more experienced teams.
“But come mid-season and at regionals, we have high expectations,” he said. “We have as good a shot as any. Our goal is to play in the finals.”

Seniors Jerod Moore, Jarret Brown and Kyle Fairbanks work on a drill.

Boys look strong
Hoonah transfer joins senior leaders

At the end of every season, coach Lee Hartson Jr. tells his SHS boys that if they want to compete for a region championship and a trip to state tourney, they better play hoops over the summer.
Usually, a few players take up the challenge, but this past summer, almost the entire team took him seriously.
“For the first time, eight or nine kids were out for an hour almost every day, playing all summer,” Hartson said. “That should give us a leg up this year. They know each other.”
A “strong senior class” and returning underclassmen will be boosted by a “pretty good” freshman crop, he said.
Among the four seniors in the probable starting line-up will be two all-conference performers, guard Kyle Fairbanks (5’8”) and center Jarret Brown (6’2”), a transfer from Hoonah. Alaska School Activities Association rules allow a one-time summer transfer in the state over a high school career. Brown has been living with family friends Don and Betty Hather since mid-summer and enrolled in the fall.
“We would have been good without him, but we are much better with him,” Harston said.
Strong seasons also are expected of Fairbanks’ senior backcourt mate, Jerod Moore (5’7”), and senior power forward Aaron Neitzer (6’0”). Senior Lucas Heger (5’10”) returns after a year in France, and other lettermen are junior center Thomas Knorr (6’4”), and sophomores Jeremy Kilburn (5’7”), John McCluskey (5’10”) and Kyle Mulvihill (5’10”).
Three freshmen join the team after a successful junior high season last year. Guard Jordan Kasler (5’10”) and forward Scott Lesh (6’0”) can score and should have an immediate impact. Forward Trevor Cochran (5’9”) can be a force in the middle, but a broken foot suffered in wrestling practice will keep him sidelined until March.
With just one big guy in the line-up, Skagway will continue to rely on speed, quickly getting the ball up the floor on fast breaks, Hartson said. The difference between this year’s team and last year’s, which lost in the region tourney semifinals, should be point production.
“This is the best shooting team overall that I’ve ever had,” Hartson said. “We have five or six kids who can shoot the three-pointer.”
Skagway is due. The boys haven’t won a region championship since 1993, and their last trip to state tournament was during Hartson’s first year of coaching in 1999. But Region V-2A is always competitive. Defending region champ Hydaburg will be the first league test at home after the Don Hather Tourney in early January.
Hartson said if Skagway can “protect the home court” this year, the team should be seeded high at tourney time.

ROUGH TRAFFIC - Christiana Heynen of Skagway strips the ball from Lindsey Pettijohn of Juneau Christian. – Photo by Brian Wallace, courtesy Juneau Empire

J-Hi teams wrap up short season at Juneau Fast Break Tourney

The Skagway junior high teams finished their short season in Juneau at the annual Fast Break Tourney. While neither team placed, they had a fun trip and brought home some accolades.
The girls finished 2-2 in the B division, “going as far as they should have gone against the competition there,” said coach Jeff Kasler. A Ketchikan team, which should have been an A team, swept the field and ended Skagway’s chances, he said.
Leah Moore was named to the All-Tourney team, and Sierra Moran, C.C. Hahn, Christiana Heynen, and Erica Harris all had good tournaments, Kasler said.
The boys lost all their games in a stacked division, as the four other teams in Skagway’s pool advanced to the semifinals. “We took some beatings,” Kasler said, but the team made progress. They played their best game against Hoonah, which won the championship. Connor Kasler was named All-Tourney, and Brent Beckner also played great, netting 24 points in one game.
Coach Kasler was honored at the tourney, receiving a gold pan with an inscription thanking him for his 20 years of working with the basketball youth of Southeast Alaska. “It was a total surprise,” he said. “It’s already on my wall. Outside of my family, it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever received.”