Rori Leaverton gets in her defensive stance during the Panthers’ home opener, and Skagway’s Blake Fletcher attempts a shot in a crowd of Angoon players. See more shots on the SHS Basketball Page. Cody Jennings

Panther teams complete early season swing

Girls off to strong 9-2 start, boys competitive at 3-5 even when short on players

By JEFF BRADY

The early start to the basketball season saw both Skagway teams post winning records at a Juneau tournament last month. The girl’s team won the Christmas Classic at Thunder Mountain with a thrilling one-point win over 3A Wrangell in the championship, while the boys went 2-1. The Panther boys’ only loss came against a strong Haines team.
The girls then headed to Ketchikan, where they ran into strong varsity squads from 4A Ketchikan and 3A Sitka, but they finished with a close win over Petersburg’s varsity.
Both teams then started the new year with a series of home games against 2A rival Angoon and Canadian foes in the Don Hather Tournament. The girls swept the field to win all of their games by fairly easy margins, but the boys struggled with just five players on the roster and on the court for the full 32 minutes of each contest.
Early during the holiday break, three boys and a girl were suspended two weeks for violating team rules. They were eligible to rejoin the teams late last week.
Boys coach Mark Jennings said the team was shell-shocked with the short roster in its opener against Angoon, which has a strong team. But he said they came together in the Hather tourney, playing close games against powerful Vanier and a good Porter Creek team. The Panthers then knocked off F.H. Collins and nearly upset Angoon, losing by just three points.
Nick Ackerman had a “monster game” with 23 points and 21 rebounds against Angoon, his coach said. Ackerman even shared bringing the ball up since two starting guards were out of the line-up.
Shooting guard Blake Fletcher handled most of the point guard duties, which limited his scoring and allowed opponents to double-team him.
“I felt bad for him,” Jennings said. “Though Blake’s not a point guard, he did not turn the ball over.”
But Airk Cochran picked up the scoring pace, as did K.C. Mayo.
“Airk played out of his mind all weekend long,” Jennings said. “He averaged 14 rebounds a game, most of those offensive…. And K.C. hit some big threes in that last game.”
The girls meanwhile are showing the region that they are still a force, even after losing three all-conference starters to graduation. Jennings said the most telling statistic so far is the team average of just 12 turnovers a game, the best he has ever seen from a Skagway squad this early in the season.
Co-coach Lara Labesky said the team is making the right adjustments.
“They are coming together nicely,” she said. “They had to discover what this team is all about.”
She said seniors Rori Leaverton and Anna Korsmo have adjusted to becoming leaders on the court, and the rest of the girls have stepped up their games.
“Polly (Brown) is shooting the lights out, Hannah (O’Daniel) is running the floor, and every game Zoe (Wassman) and Amanda (Hoover) get better and better,” she added. “And Jayce (Ellis) is doing well and putting in a lot of minutes.”
She said the team did well at the early season tourneys considering how they had only a few practices to get ready for them. Once back at home, they got in more practices and played great in the five-game homestand.
“They are getting more comfortable in their roles out there,” Labesky said.
Next up for both teams is the long trip to play Prince of Wales Island schools this week. From Jan. 18 through Jan. 23, the girls will play four games, while the boys will play six. First stop is Thorne Bay for both teams, then Klawock, and finally Hydaburg for just the boys.
Many of the games will be broadcast on KHNS. See Calendar on page 7 for game times.
“Going to the island is always a challenge, “ Labesky said. “Those will be our toughest games of the season.”
For scores and available game stats, see the SHS Basketball Page on the News website at www.skagwaynews.com.