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The Haines High School girls basketball team broke through three years of anguish to defeat Craig 45-35 in the runner-up game of the 2023 Region V 2A/4A Basketball Tournament at Juneau’s Thunder Mountain High School on Saturday, which determines the second seed to the state tournament.
“We are pumped,” Haines coach Coleman Stanford said. “I know this wasn’t the region championship game, but it sure feels like it for us. Three seasons ago we were fifth in this tournament, two years ago we didn’t get an invite because of COVID and only the top four got invites, and last year we lost this game… so it just feels good to keep moving up the ladder in some form or fashion. It just feels great.”
All four seniors on the team have been on that ladder.
“They’ve been with me for four years,” Stanford said. “And they got their butts kicked all over Southeast Alaska for the first two. And then they started making strides last year and now here we are. I am so glad they got to see the other side and get some success under their belts. To keep grinding and coming to practice when we sometimes had just six players… and to just get your butt kicked night in and night out and keep coming back… I am so happy for them.”
No derrieres were kicked on Saturday as Haines and Craig played within a couple possessions the entire contest.
Craig scored the points of the game on an old-fashioned three-point play with Lady Panther’s senior Makenna Taylor being fouled while scoring on a rebound. She connected on the free throw for a 3-0 lead, one of just three leads for the Lady Panthers.
Haines would play their traditional full court press defense while Craig tried to work more deliberately.
Haines seniors Grace Long Godinez and Alison Benda hit back-to-back baskets for a 4-3 advantage.
Craig senior Amiaya Hansen took the lead back with an inside shot but Haines junior Gracie Stickler scored inside to claim it back and the two sides battled to the first quarter end with Haines senior Alison Benda gave the Lady Glacier Bears a 13-10 lead.
“At first we were kind of bad but we kept pushing and that is what really counted,” Benda said of the seniors’ careers. “And we put in a lot of effort which really paid off. I’m really happy we have such amazing coaches and our team is so amazing. We never gave up even though we lost many games and people started losing support for us. We regained all that support and we just kept fighting and this is the result of all that.”
Haines junior Ashlyn Ganey hit a deep three to start the second stanza, and after two scores by Craig seniors Laci Lowery and Alexis Lawnicki to pull within 16-14, Haines senior MadKenzy Dryden hit a shot from past the top of the key that banked in for a 19-14 lead.
“My gosh, we’ve been playing together forever,” Haines’ Dryden said the team’s seniors. “I remember in middle school we wanted to go to state and we were so excited to get to play in high school, and then we were like, ‘Oh wow, this is going to take a lot of work…’ and we didn’t know how much work. But we have all played together and we have gotten better together. All the work we have put in together has made it so much more worth it.”
Craig kept Haines working harder.
The Lady Panthers’ Alissa Durgan scored twice inside and added two free-throws and junior Priscilla Trudeau added a score to keep pace with Lady Glacier Bears baskets by Stickler, Benda and two more hoops by Grace Long Godinez for a 27-22 Haines advantage at the half.
A steal and score by Durgan and a rebound score by Taylor pulled Craig within a point, 27-26 to start the second half but Haines’ Long Godinez took a charge and assisted on a basket, took another charge and assisted again to open a 32-26 lead.
“It means everything,” Long Godinez said of going to state. “We worked so hard all four years, from coming in last to being able to go to state just shows how much we worked and everything is paying off. We were the worst of the worst as freshmen, we got mercy-ruled almost every game. So this is super sweet. I am so excited.”
Craig would get scores by Taylor, Lawnicki and Durgan to lead 33-32 at the quarters end.
A steal by Haines’ Long Godinez gave Stickler another score to retake the lead and after a freethrow by Craig sophomore Faith Horner to tie the score at 34-34, Haines’ Long Godinez had another steal, senior Malia Jorgenson-Geise blocked a shot, and sophomore Ari’el Godinez Long scored back-to-back buckets. The Lady Glacier Bears would not relinquish the lead again.
Haines closed the game on a 7-1 run for the 45-35 win.
“It is so unreal right now,” Haines’ Jorgenson-Geise said. “We worked so hard to get here and it has finally paid off. I cannot express how proud I am of our team for coming together and putting in as much effort as we have in practice and in games and wanting to get better and listening to coaches. It is a lot. I am so happy to be here.”
Grace Long Godinez led Haines with 11 points and five steals, Dryden and Ari’el Godinez Long added seven points apiece, Benda, Stickler and Ganey six points each, and Jorgenson-Geise two.
The Lady Glacier Bears hit 9-13 at the free throw line, the Lady Panthers 7-11.
Durgan led Craig with 13 points, Taylor and Lawnicki added five points apiece, Trudeau four, Horner and Hansen three apiece and senior Laci Lowery two.