Thunder Mountain High School coach John Blasco, shown in action at the state tournament opening game against West Valley last week, was selected the 2024 4A Boys Coach of the Year by the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School coach John Blasco, shown in action at the state tournament opening game against West Valley last week, was selected the 2024 4A Boys Coach of the Year by the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Blasco, Young and Brock selected respective divisional state coaches of the year

Thunder Mountain, Mt. Edgecumbe, Petersburg coaches note the award is about the kids, communities.

Is it any wonder that Southeast Alaska basketball teams were so successful this season, both on and off the court, what with the guidance of coaches who have devoted their lives to the sport, and the young men and women they coach?

On Monday, the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association selected the annual All-State Basketball Teams, based on ballots received by coaches in each class for play through the season.

Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco was chosen as the 4A Boys Coach of the Year, Mt. Edgecumbe’s Archie Young the 3A Boys Coach of the Year and Petersburg’s Rick Brock the 2A Boys Coach of the Year. Each guided their teams into the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska Basketball State Championships at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center this season.

“I couldn’t be more honored to be recognized by peers,” Blasco said. “All of us across the state put in so much time and effort into our programs and our kids, so to be recognized by the coaches for the job done this year means a lot. Definitely is an award I will cherish forever.”

Blasco, CEO of Anchorage Distillery, guided the Falcons to the Region V title and the state championship final this season. At state, TMHS (21-10) defeated third-ranked West Valley in overtime in the quarterfinals, 53-51, and second-ranked Service in overtime in the semifinals, 48-45, before falling to Alaska-undefeated and top-ranked East Anchorage, 60-34, in the finals.

“I don’t get recognized for an award like this if the players don’t perform like they did,” Blasco said. “The senior class and the underclassmen put so many hours in during the off-season and season, and they bought into the program and to each other. They were successful on the court, which led to me being able to be recognized by peers for the work that went into helping them get there…My family has made huge sacrifices to let me coach. Any coach that has a family, with the hours put in and the fundraising, my wife, Elise, and my kids give up a lot. No coach can do it without the support of a strong partner. For four months, she takes care of the kids, house and life while I’m coaching and traveling. As much as they love to be in the gym, they miss daddy. It means a lot to have their support.”

Blasco and Elise first met 13 years ago. A mutual friend, a medical pilot, set up one of his flight nurses, Elise, on a blind date with John at Island Pub. During the evening Blasco noted that he was a basketball coach and Elise replied, “Oh, that’s cute.”

This is also the final year Thunder Mountain, opened in 2008-09, will be a high school. The Juneau School District, facing dire funding shortfalls, has opted to consolidate the valley school into the long-standing Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. Blasco has been head coach of Thunder Mountain for the duration.

“Lastly, bringing this home to Thunder Mountain and to Juneau,” he said. “We were trying to win a state title for Juneau, not just Thunder Mountain, but for the community of Juneau. That was our goal. We came up a little bit short, but I think runner-up in the state is a pretty big accomplishment in itself. To have two all-state basketball players from Thunder Mountain and another from Juneau-Douglas… That’s three Juneau players and one from Ketchikan out of 15 making all-state and that is so awesome for Southeast… and on the girls side, and 3As and 2As, I’m happy for Southeast basketball…”

Southeast players making the 4A all-state teams included TMHS seniors Thomas Baxter and Samuel Lockhart, Ketchikan junior Marcus Stockhausen, and TMHS juniors Cailynn and Kerra Baxter (all 2nd team selections); and JDHS senior Alwen Carrillo and KTN senior Bree Johnson (3rd team).

Mt. Edgecumbe coach Archie Young, shown walking off the court with his son Keian and members of the Braves team at the state tournament last week, was selected the 2024 3A Boys Coach of the Year by the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association. (Klas Stolpe /For the Juneau Empire)

Mt. Edgecumbe coach Archie Young, shown walking off the court with his son Keian and members of the Braves team at the state tournament last week, was selected the 2024 3A Boys Coach of the Year by the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association. (Klas Stolpe /For the Juneau Empire)

Mt. Edgecumbe’s Archie Young, in his retirement season from the school after 25 years as head coach and math/physical education teacher, guided the then-undefeated Braves to the 3A Eastern Conference title. At state, MEHS (26-1) defeated Hutchison, 66-20, in the quarters and Valdez, 67-38, in the semis before falling to second-ranked Nome-Beltz, 63-61, on a last-second basket for the state title.

“Coach of the Year is nice, but it is a team award,” Young said. “If the players don’t work and the players don’t win then the coach doesn’t get it. It is definitely a reflection of them, their effort and their success this year.”

Young said the team took 10 days off last year when the season was over. They started off-season workouts and talked of team camp levels to play at and worked to achieve those goals. In the fall, when students returned to campus, they hit the weight room and open gym and morning sessions before school.

“It was definitely a year-long process,” Young said. “For some of them it was multiple years.”

MEHS, first established in 1947, is unique in that it is now a modern Alaska boarding school that has educated generations of leaders who have strengthened the Alaska Native voice. For rural students to have an opportunity to voluntarily attend MEHS for improved education, athletics and, in some instances, a safer way of life, while still keeping their culture is a blessing, but as a coach and educator the enrollment roster is never set in stone and building a community requires foundations.

“The parents this year were awesome,” said Young, who also thanked his partner Monica Chase and son Keian. “We had parents that came to Barrow with us, parents that went to Kenai with us, we had grandparents at conference games coming to regionals. This is the first time that I can recall on our senior night that every one of my seniors had a parent or parents there for them. That was rare. The parent support of this group and myself has been phenomenal. It was very special.”

Young told his team that “the one loss does not define their season, the hard work put in or what they shared…The moments coaches remember are not a play in a game here or there, it’s the helicopter ride we got to take in Barrow and seeing 20 polar bears feeding on a whale carcass…It’s the laughter and smiles I saw while interacting in charades at midnight before leaving on a flight…Just sharing memories and moments together…We talked about how hard we worked and that they need to continue to work because hard work doesn’t guarantee success, hard work provides you opportunities.”

Southeast all-state 3A players included MEHS seniors Kaison Herrmann and Carliese O’Brien (1st team); MEHS seniors Jake Friske, Tessa Anderson and Sitka senior Trey Demmert (2nd team); and MEHS junior Donovan Standifer, senior Bessie Williams and SHS senior Naia Nelson (3rd team).

Petersburg coach Rick Brock, shown in action at the 2023 Region V tournament in Juneau last year, was selected the 2024 2A Boys Coach of the Year by the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Petersburg coach Rick Brock, shown in action at the 2023 Region V tournament in Juneau last year, was selected the 2024 2A Boys Coach of the Year by the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Petersburg’s Rick Brock guided the Vikings (18-10, seven losses to 3A/4A squads) to the 2A Region V Championship and at state third-ranked PHS defeated six-ranked Ninilchik, 44-42, in the quarters, second-ranked Cordova, 38-34, in the semis and top-ranked Hooper Bay, 41-33, for the state title.

“I’m honored and blessed to have such a fantastic group of young men to work with,” Brock said. “This is a team award. Things kind of fell in place as far as timing for us and getting better and better as the year went. We really were playing our best basketball at the end of the year. That is due to their hard work in practice every day and their dedication to the program.”

Brock, a math and coach for 30 years in Petersburg (student teaching, sub and assistant coach in Wrangell two years prior), noted the kids are part of a larger team.

“The community itself supports basketball,” he said. “They have programs for these guys from kindergarten/first grade on. The town never hesitates to support us. It takes fundraising for special trips to Anchorage. And it is a lot of dedication and time from the parents themselves having their young men gone hours of the day and traveling, just all the background support. And then our school itself is dedicated to activities and supports all activities. You go to one of our home games and we have a fantastic pep band, great cheerleaders and just a wonderful atmosphere for these guys to play in front of. They feel good about themselves and feel good about the program.”

When asked about the time spent away from his family due to his work, Brock said: “I wouldn’t want to say, I think it would be a shock to all of us. I have been blessed with a family that loves basketball and supports myself and the program. I was lucky enough to coach my son and be around my two daughters playing. Michele (his wife) has been a big part of this for over 30 years now. I always tell my team she is the boss…This is quite an honor to win, and what a cool thing to share it with family (Young is his cousin) and really good friends. I am super happy for both of them, they had excellent years. Archie’s year was incredible and what a great way for John and his group to finish out their season.”

Southeast 2A all-state players were Wrangell senior Daniel Harrison and Metlakatla seniors Bree Chavez and Kennedy Cook (1st team); PHS seniors Hendrick Cumps and Hunter Conn, MET senior Ryley Booth and junior Lexi Cook (2nd team); and MET junior Carter Marsden and Craig freshman Sara Steffin (3rd team).

Southeast 1A all-state selections were Kake senior Dominic Ross and Klawock senior McKinley Holien (1st team); and KLWK senior Marley Kness (3rd team).

Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches All-State Basketball teams:

4A BOYS

Player of the Year: Muhammed Sabally, East Anchorage

Coach of the Year: John Blasco, Thunder Mountain

First team:

Marek Hajdukovich, Dimond

Toby Howard, Service

Layton Nield, West Valley

Muhammed Sabally, East Anchorage

Akeem Sulaiman, East Anchorage

Second team:

Thomas Baxter, Thunder Mountain

Samuel Lockhart, Thunder Mountain

Buob Marial, West Anchorage

Jett McCullough, Monroe Catholic

Marcus Stockhausen, Ketchikan

Third team:

Alwen Carillo, Juneau-Douglas

Mat Choul, West Anchorage

Michael George, East Anchorage

Lok Kulang, Bartlett

Sawyer Petersen, West Valley

4A GIRLS

Player of the Year: Hallie Clark, Colony

Coach of the Year: Jeannie Hebert-Truax, Wasilla

First team:

Mylee Anderson, Wasilla

Hallie Clark, Colony

Layla Hays, Wasilla

Aryanna Watson, Service

Maile Wilcox, Dimond

Second team:

Morgan Ainsworth, Colony

Cailynn Baxter, Thunder Mountain

Kerra Baxton, Thunder Mountain

Evan Hamey, Dimond

Morgan Maldonado, Mountain City Christian

Third team:

Maliyah Alex, Mountain City Christian

Bree Johnson, Ketchikan

Tonya Karpow, Colony

Keelie Kronberger, Mountain City Christian

Jasmine Schaeffer, Mountain City Christian

3A BOYS

Player of the Year: Kellen Jedicka, Grace Christian

Coach of the Year: Archie Young, Mount Edgecumbe

First team:

Richard Cross, Nome

Alex Fruean, Barrow

Finn Gregg, Nome

Kaison Herrmann, Mount Edgecumbe

Kellen Jedicka, Grace Christian

Second team:

Ben Ambrosiani, Seward

Trey Demmert, Sitka

Jake Friske, Mount Edgecumbe

Jarrett Gage, Valdez

Tino Tucker, Valdez

Third team:

Robbie Annett, Grace Christian

Donovan Standifer, Mount Edgecumbe

Sasita Unutoa, Barrow

Noah Whitted, Houston

Skylar Wilson, Delta

3A GIRLS

Player of the Year: Sophie Lentfer, Grace Christian

Coach of the Year: Nicole Smith, Barrow

First team:

Ella Boerger, Grace Christian

Kiara Burnell, Barrow

Shannel Kovalsky, Monroe Catholic

Sophie Lentfer, Grace Christian

Carliese O’Brien, Mount Edgecumbe

Second team:

Tessa Anderson, Mount Edgecumbe

Emma Beck, Kenai Central

Sydney Shelby, Homer

Poppy Wiggers-Pidduck, Grace Christian

Kimberly Wolgemuth, Barrow

Third team:

Leila Church, Monroe Catholic

Olivia Jones, Grace Christian

Naia Nelson, Sitka

MJ Van Der Horst, Grace Christian

Bessie Williams, Mount Edgecumbe

2A BOYS

Player of the Year: Latrell Lake, Hooper Bay

Coach of the Year: Richard Brock, Petersburg

First team:

Daniel Harrison, Wrangell

John Itliong, Cordova

Latrell Lake, Hooper Bay

Kade McCorison, Ninilchik

John Soderstrom, Unalakleet

Second team:

Hunter Conn, Petersburg

Hendrick Cumps, Petersburg

Carson Long, Hooper Bay

Maurice Slats, Chevak

Gage Williams, Unalaska

Third team:

Austin Barnard, Susitna Valley

Ace Hill, Chevak

Felipe Jacob, Cordova

Rowan Mahoney, Ninilchik

Carter Marsden, Metlakatla

2A GIRLS

Player of the Year: Jennifer Nash, Tikigaq

Coach of the Year: Collin Stone, Nenana

First team:

Bree Chavez, Metlakatla

Kennedy Cook, Metlakatla

Cheyenne Fields, Glennallen

Sophie McManus, Nenana

Jennifer Nash, Tikigaq

Second team:

Ryley Booth, Metlakatla

Raeleen Bradley, Unalakleet

Lexi Cook, Metlakatla

Lily Esmailka, Susitna Valley

Tatyana Nashookpuk, Tikigaq

Third team:

Marie Housler, Nenana

Lizabeth Ivanoff, Unalakleet

Susie Long, Hooper Bay

Kasey Rock, Tikigaq

Sara Steffen, Craig

1A BOYS

Player of the Year:

Jager-Sean Brandell, King Cove

Coach of the Year: Kenneth Barbour, King Cove

First team:

Jager-Sean Brandell, King Cove

Ian McGarry, Cook Inlet Academy

Dominic Ross, Kake

Josiah Sundown, Scammon Bay

Stewie Sundown, Scammon Bay

Second team:

Andrew David, Minto

Thomas Mack, King Cove

Alek McGarry, Cook Inlet Academy

Jethron Nanalook, Manoktoak

Rowdy Tripp, Sand Point

Third team:

Marsten Cappelle, Minto

Michael Gould, King Cove

Marley Kness, Klawock

William Morgan, Aniak

Kellen Wassillie, Bristol Bay

1A GIRLS

Player of the Year: Nellie Ward, Fort Yukon

Coach of the Year: Josh Cadzow, Fort Yukon

First team:

McKinley Holien, Klawock

Nellie Ward, Fort Yukon

Ida Lester, Newhalen

Naomi Savetilik, Shaktoolik

Twila Strom, Fort Yukon

Second team:

Olivia Harvilla, Bristol Bay

Arianna Hart, Nunamiut

Jane Ward, Fort Yukon

Amara Warren, Lumen Christi

Arianna Wilson, Sand Point

Third team:

Kelisha Gloko, Manoktoak

Kaytee Reich, Birchwood Christian

Analeigh Wassillie, Newhalen

Dannika Wassillie, Newhalen

Tricia Weyanna, Shishmaref

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