The Juneau-Douglas High School Yadaa.at Kalé boys basketball team will face Ketchikan High School Saturday for the Region V title.
“We are just grateful at this point for every opportunity we have. We can think back to last year this time when everything was getting shut down,” said coach Rob Casperson in an email. “We are fortunate to have the chance to play at all.”
With Thunder Mountain now out of contention, JDHS will carry Juneau’s hopes for a regional title. The responsibility will not find them wanting, Casperson said.
“We’ve had a good week of practice. We’re looking forward to getting down there,” Casperson said. “The excitement of regions is still there for us even if the atmosphere is different.”
No one can predict the outcome of a game before it happens, Casperson said. Ketchikan beat JDHS in the Crimson Bears’ only loss of the season, but the Kayhi Kings lost to JDHS several times as well.
“Ketchikan’s a scrappy team and they’re gonna play hard with a lot of energy the whole game. We’re gonna start 0-0,” Casperson said. “We showed a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing last time we were there. I’m hoping that that situation keeps us focused and prepared going into the game this weekend, knowing that we’re gonna have to compete and impose our will on Ketchikan.”
The winner of this game will be invited to go on to the state championship, scheduled for next weekend. But the circumstances around that, like so many other things in the time of pandemic, are complicated, Casperson said.
“States is scheduled to be held in the (Matanuska-Susitna) Valley,” Casperson said. “The Mat-Su Valley has the highest rate of infections and the lowest rate of vaccinations. Our city has a thing where if someone’s in the red we’re not supposed to go. I just don’t know”
While the tournament is usually held in Anchorage, COVID-19 level restrictions that have since been relaxed led to the tournament’s relocation to the Mat-Su several weeks ago, Casperson said.
A rocky road to a promising future
As JDHS looks to regions on Saturday, TMHS coach John Blasco spoke about the Falcon’s season, which ended at Ketchikan’s hand’s last weekend.
“Obviously you don’t want to end on a loss. But only one team gets to end on a win,” Blasco said. “I think this group came a long ways. We returned only a couple guys and had new leadership. I think it shows the growth of our team, to see that last game.”
A short run up and a truncated game schedule raised the stakes on a season made more tumultuous by the cancellations from communities in the region with elevated coronavirus levels.
“Normally you have three weeks of practice before you play some nonconference games,” Blasco said. “This year we had eight practices before playing conference games.”
A largely new coaching staff and a young team will set TMHS up for success in the future, Blasco said. TMHS graduates Matt Seymour and Chase Saviers joined Blasco and Joe Tompkins in coaching the team following the departure of every other former coach for elsewhere after last season, Blasco said.
“You had a short challenging year and two new coaches and I think they did an excellent job,” Blasco said. “My understanding is we have a full schedule next year. It’s gonna be great to compete against teams outside of our region next year.”
And a healthy crop of underclassmen are going to make for an interesting few years, including Thomas Baxter, a freshman who started every game and was either the first or second leading scorer for the Falcons.
“We have an interesting group,” Blasco said. “We have a big group of juniors and a big group of freshmen.”
Blasco mentioned his pride for his athletes bearing up under the face of a schedule and coronavirus conditions that swirled like fog, obscuring the road before them.
“One big win is we went COVID free. We were able to execute a mitigation plan. We had 30 kids in our program and we made it through the season without COVID. I think it shows we can be healthy in this environment,” Blasco said. “They understood things could change tomorrow but they made the best of today and kept trucking. One of the things we talk about in the program is control what you can control and that’s what they did.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.