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Playing on emotion for their teammates, their high school and for community members in the stands and in their hearts the Metlakatla High School MisChiefs basketball team dominated the Craig Lady Panthers 47-18 to win the Region V 2A Girls Basketball Championship on Friday in Juneau’s Thunder Mountain High School gymnasium.
“I’m ecstatic,” Ryley Booth said. “I can’t even believe that we just pulled this off. We all love each other so much and I think we all just wanted it so much for each other. We all fought so hard. Craig is a really tough team but we just came out knowing that we were the ones that deserved to win that. We lost a pretty big influencer in our life a few months ago, in December, so this was a pretty big deal for us. He is like a father figure to all of us and he is a really great coach and we all really love and appreciate him. This is really an emotional time for us. We all fought so hard to get this. We are just hoping we get State now. We are firing on all cylinders right now.”
That influencer was Randy Cook, the father of junior Kennedy Cook, grandfather to sophomore Lexi Cook. He passed away in December from a heart attack.
After Metlakatla coach Julian Russell cut down the last string of the championship net Friday night he took it to Javan Cook, Randy’s widow.
“It’s like a rollercoaster right now,” Metlakatla coach Russell said. “So emotional. With what happened to Randy we have tried to stay mentally focused and mentally strong. I have my own individual, my father Albert, who passed away 14 years ago that I wish were here. He never got to see me coach… but these girls battled so hard. They worked their butts off to get this and we didn’t let it go this year. We were up at halftime last year and we blew it in the second half… we made sure that wasn’t going to happen this year…”
The MisChiefs started quietly with an 8-3 advantage after the first quarter on three baskets by Lexi Cook and one from senior Randi Schleusner. Craig’s lone basket came from senior Alissa Durgan and a free throw from senior Amiaya Hansen.
The MisChiefs pushed their advantage out to 22-9 at the half-time break behind three free throws by Kennedy Cook, baskets by Lexi Cook, Schleusner, junior Bree Chavez, and Booth. Craig senior Alexis Lawnicki had five free throws and junior Priscilla Trudeau a basket.
“It feels good, we worked hard,” Lexi Cook said. “Last year we came out strong in the championship game but we came short. So this year was kind of like our comeback. Now we go to State. It is not over yet. Try to get those seniors last chance at a championship.”
Lexi Cook said Randy would have been vocal at the game.
“He was more like my dad because he was raising me,” she said. “I lived with them. We argued a lot but that was like our bond, that was our connection, the arguing…”
Randy Cook would have appreciated Metlakatla’s third quarter as Kennedy Cook scored four free throws, and junior Bree Chavez, Booth and junior Sarai Buffalo hit one basket each.
“It’s rough but… he meant everything to me,” Kennedy Cook said. “He was my dad. I did everything for him. He did everything for me. He was our coach for a lot of girls on the team…”
In the off seasons Randy Cook would take Kennedy, Lexi, granddaughter Mia Winter and their teammates to basketball camps and tournaments.
“His inner child really showed,” Kennedy Cook said. “He liked to do everything with us, just not roller coasters… He liked to play me one-on-one a lot but he had a bad knee and shoulder so I got him… I think he was here with us, definitely celebrating. He was always our biggest supporter out there. He cheered hard and followed us everywhere.”
Craig scored five points in the third quarter and four in the fourth quarter.
Metlakatla put 15 points on the score clock in the final eight minutes including two shots past the arch from senior Chloe Guthrie, and baskets by senior Pyper Booth, Ryley Booth and Chavez.
“I’m excited, we deserved that,” junior Bree Chavez said. “We worked for that all year. State is next. It is our year. We were in this exact position last year and we lost. But from the start of this game I knew it was going to be ours. Randy would be proud.”
Ryley Booth led Metlakatla with nine points, Lexi Cook and Guthrie added eight points apiece, Kennedy Cook and Chavez seven apiece, Schleusner four, P. Booth and Buffalo two apiece.
The MisChiefs hit 10-14 at the free throw line, the Lady Panthers 9-26.
Lawnicki led Craig with eight points, Durgan added four, Makenna Taylor three, Trudeau two and Hansen one.
Metlakatla will be the top Southeast seeded team in the March Madness Alaska State Basketball Tournament in Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
Craig will play for the second seed on Saturday at 3 p.m. against Haines.