To mark the end of basketball season, the Empire is highlighting all four high school basketball teams. Read the TMHS boys’ season review here; the JDHS girls’ season review here; and the JDHS boys’ season review here. You can also find the season summaries in the print newspaper in the following editions: April 5 (JDHS girls), April 6 (JDHS boys), April 7 (TMHS girls) and April 9 (TMHS boys).
Nothing was going to be handed to Thunder Mountain High School girls basketball coach Chandler Christensen in her first year coaching the team.
Absent any seniors, the team could not contend with the deeper and more experienced Juneau-Douglas and Ketchikan. The Falcons fared 0-9 in the regular season against those two teams. That’s not to say they didn’t improve. No, anyone that saw their final two weeks of the season can attest to their growth. Coach Christensen’s confidence in captains Cyrene Uddipa and Nina Fenumiuai was particularly evident during that time.
In the second to last regular season game, Uddipa scored 16 points against the Crimson Bears as her team lost by just seven points. Not bad for a team that had been previously dealt 30, 28 and 17-point losses in their first three meetings with their crosstown rivals. The next week in the Region V tournament, Fenumiai was unstoppable in the post and scored big in two losses to Ketchikan.
The latter two losses were the end of an 18-game Falcons losing streak that started in mid-January and continued on through the rest of the season. The Falcons two-game sweep of West Valley counted as the only two wins for the team this season. Perhaps the most crushing defeat of those 18 straight was a 54-8 loss to Ketchikan.
“I told the girls all season that our record didn’t display the way that they played,” Christensen said.
Kudos to this team for believing that, especially at the end of a long and difficult season.
Q&A with Coach Chandler Christensen
What did you learn about coaching girls high school basketball in your first season as the head coach?
I really had to learn how hard I could push these girls. With such small numbers this year, I really had to see how far these girls were willing to push themselves before it would be too much. Luckily, I had two amazing assistant coaches (Vince Yadao and Jason Wilson) who have both coached for a lot of years and they helped so much with this. I had to learn that it couldn’t always be me pushing them to do something, they’ve got to want it bad enough to push themselves, and I think that this group finally realized that towards the end of the year.
What’s one interesting or surprising thing about your team that most people don’t know about?
I made the girls listen to “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion on repeat during shoot around the day after a game when we went 3-14 from the free throw line, so that was kind of our “theme song” for the year. Surprisingly, it did seem to improve their free throw shooting when they would listen to it.
What was the most fun game to coach in this season?
I really enjoyed the last two games that we played in the regular season against JD. Seeing the girls putting the pieces of the puzzle together and seeing that they could stay close with a team that earlier in the season had blown us out was very rewarding. Even though we didn’t win either game, I think that their confidence grew so much after those games.
How did you see your girls confidence grow over the course of the season?
I think it took them a while for them to really see what they were capable of doing. But once they realized what they could do, it was amazing to watch. From the beginning of the season to the end, it was almost like watching a completely different team.
What areas of the game will you try to better next season?
I think next season we really need to work on our offense. I came into the season putting all of our focus on defense. We wanted to have different defenses that we could switch up and really hound teams on the defensive end. So throughout the season, we started realizing that defense wasn’t our problem so much as offense. We’ve got to have everybody on the team being a scoring threat and I think that has to be a focus for next year.
On Co-Captains Nina Fenumiai and Cyrene Uddipa
“I chose these two was because they showed me the most leadership and determination in the pre-season. These two were the ones who showed up to every open gym, every early morning workout, and every late workout we had and they were the ones pushing the other girls to show up as well.”
Kyra Jenkins Hayes