The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé girls basketball team will enter the new year on the right foot as they come off a win at the Princess Tours Capital City Classic tournament held in Juneau.
The JDHS boys and Thunder Mountain High School girls also came out of the tournament with two wins and a loss apiece.
The Eagle River High School boys team went on to win the boy’s half of the tournament.
“It went pretty well,” said JDHS girls coach Steve Potter in a phone interview. “We won pretty handily against Kotzebue and Eagle River. We had a pretty close game with Thunder Mountain.”
TMHS provided the biggest challenge for JDHS, Potter said.
“They’re young, so they’re figuring some stuff out. They played really hard and (Coach) Andy (Lee) plays a lot of kids,” Potter said. “They don’t back down. I think they were ahead by one at the half and we ended up winning by 10.”
JDHS came out of the gate a bit hot against TMHS before tightening up and focusing, Potter said.
“I think we were too excited to play them,” Potter said. “We calmed down in the second half.”
The girls team is figuring out their strengths, Potter said.
“Everything for us starts off with defensive pressure,” Potter said. “When we got that going on, we’re usually doing pretty well.”
Illness has kept the roster fluid so far, Potter said, giving players who might not ordinarily get much time on the court an opportunity to prove themselves. Having the tournament at home was also a plus, Potter said, once the team got used to playing in front of a home crowd.
Skylar Tuckwood was named girls tournament MVP, and Rebekah Grube, Ashley Laudert and Kiyara Miller were recognized for all-tournament honors. Grube also won the three-point shooting competition on Wednesday.
The JDHS boys had a solid tournament playing in front of their home crowd, said coach Robert Casperson.
“I think for us, it was a great tournament from the standpoint of identifying some areas of need and working to improve them each game,” Casperson said in a phone interview.
Each game taught different lessons, Casperson said.
“I think dropping that game to a talented and hardworking Eagle River really drove home that they got work to do,” Casperson said. “They came back focused and fired up for the game against West (Anchorage High School).”
Casperson recognized the away teams for making it down to Juneau, and hoped the experience they gained here would stand them in good stead during their regular season games.
“I’m appreciative of them coming down here,” Casperson said, speaking about Kotzebue. “I think they gained a lot of experience coming here.”
Casperson also recognized the crowd for bringing a positive spirit to the tournament.
“It was a great tournament overall. It was great having it back this year after the COVID hiatus,” Casperson said. “(The JDHS boys team) fed off the crowd’s energy. The tournament always serves as a meeting spot for a lot of different groups.”
Alwen Carrillo and Sean Oliver were named all-tournament, and Kai Hargrave was named free-throw shooting champ during the Wednesday night skills competitions. Orion Dybdahl, Chris Harris and Porter Nelson also delivered standout performances, improving as the tournament progressed, Casperson said.
“We’re thankful we had the tournament and the crowd showed up,” Casperson said. “I hope it’s a harbinger of things to come in Juneau.”
The boys team will have several weeks off from games before playing in the Alaska Airlines Classic in late January, Casperson said, giving the team time to fine-tune their play informed by the early season games and tournaments.
“One of the things I really like about the way our schedule is crafted is we really get to tighten up our offensive execution and defensive rotation and communication,” Casperson said.
With six games played, the Thunder Mountain High School girls basketball team sports a 3-3 record.
TMHS beat the visiting Eagle River and Kotzebue teams, but lost what coach Andy Lee called a “hard-fought” game against the tournament-winning Juneau-Douglas team.
“We’re right where we belong, and looking forward to getting better,” Lee said.
Kiara Kookesh, a junior, and Cailynn Baxter, a freshman, earned all-tournament honors.
Kookesh also won the tournament’s free-throw shooting contest and placed second in it’s 3-point shooting contest. Baxter scored 21 points against Kotzebue.
“It’s her third 20-point game of the season,” Lee said.
Lee said his biggest takeaway from the tournament is that 13 different players saw time on the court for TMHS. He said the team is still young, and it’s important for players, many of whom did not play basketball at the middle-school level because of the pandemic, to gain experience.
He said he’s seeing signs that the TMHS girls’ daunting early season schedule, which has included games against state and national powerhouses, is leading to improvement.
“They’ve had to face some adversity and challenges and come out on the other side,” Lee said.
While raw but talented players continue to refine offensive skills, Lee said defense, depth and tenacity will continue to be the team’s calling cards.
Up next for Thunder Mountain is a game against Eagle River in Eagle River on Jan. 12 followed by a tournament in Palmer Jan. 13-15 that will include tough tests against Palmer High School, West Valley High School and Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or email@example.com. Ben Hohenstatt contributed reporting to this article.