Skagway’s Hailey Jensen, center, is closely guarded by Hoonah’s Ronnie Roberts, left, and Krissy Benn at the Juneau Lions Club 73rd Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Skagway won 80-42. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Skagway’s Hailey Jensen, center, is closely guarded by Hoonah’s Ronnie Roberts, left, and Krissy Benn at the Juneau Lions Club 73rd Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Skagway won 80-42. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

New Gold Medal team makes impression in blowout win

Skagway starts out hot in first-ever tournament

The members of the Skagway women’s basketball team have played together for years. They know what they can do.

The other teams at the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, however, haven’t seen the Skagway women in action. The Skagway players believe that this is the first women’s Gold Medal team from Skagway ever.

Through two games, Jesse Ellis and her Skagway teammates have left a memorable first impression.

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After a victory over Haines in their debut, the Skagway women put on a show in a 80-42 drubbing of traditional powerhouse Hoonah on Tuesday. Ellis scored 27 points as she and her teammates slashed through the Hoonah defense on one end and stifled passing lanes on the other.

Skagway seemed to be in fast-forward while Hoonah played at normal speed, and Ellis said that’s just the way they play.

Skagway’s Kaitlyn Jerod shoots between Hoonah’s Melissa Fisher, left, and Mariah Martin in the match at the Lion Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Skagway’s Kaitlyn Jerod shoots between Hoonah’s Melissa Fisher, left, and Mariah Martin in the match at the Lion Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“That’s always been how we’ve played basketball is just push the tempo, so we just kept trying to get up the floor and play as fast as we can and play tough defense,” Ellis said.

Hoonah held a 17-15 lead after the first quarter, but Skagway turned on the jets in the second frame. Behind 12 points from Ellis, Skagway outscored Hoonah 24-5 in the quarter to build a 17-point halftime lead.

[Game Schedule, Brackets and More: Read our Gold Medal 2019 Special Section here]

After halftime, Skagway’s Samantha Ames swished a trio of three-pointers to extend the team’s lead and hold off a couple small Hoonah scoring runs. Ames, who finished with 21 points, did a little bit of everything for Skagway by being a ball hawk on the defensive end and pushing the ball up the court to spark Skagway’s fast-break offense.

Melissa Fisher’s 14 points led Hoonah, which now heads to the loser’s bracket to try and fight its way back to the championship game. Skagway remains in the winner’s bracket and will play in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Ellis said not many people have been able to make it down to cheer them on during the week, but they’ll surely have a larger fan section this weekend.

“We’re just really happy to be here,” Ellis said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to come here and play such a fun tournament and atmosphere to be in. We’re just really happy to be here and finally have a women’s team here.”

Yakutat makes early exit as defending champs stay alive

Yakutat’s Jimmi Jensen, right, rebounds over Klukwan’s Michael Ganey, center, in their match at the Lion Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Yakutat’s Jimmi Jensen, right, rebounds over Klukwan’s Michael Ganey, center, in their match at the Lion Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Klukwan’s experienced players found themselves in familiar territory Tuesday. Though they’ve been one of the best teams in the C Bracket in recent years, they seemingly always lose a game early and have to fight their way through the loser’s bracket

“It’s kind of our M.O. for the last 20 years,” Klukwan player Andrew Friske said. “We’re not new to going through the loser’s bracket. In fact, we used to … we didn’t encourage it, but we weren’t disappointed to be in the loser’s bracket because it would give us a few more games to play together.”

That wasn’t the intent for the defending champions this year, as they “came out flat and finished flatter,” as Friske said, in their loss to Hoonah on Sunday. Playing Yakutat to stay alive in the loser’s bracket Tuesday, Klukwan pulled away early and won 94-61.

Friske and teammate Jesse McGraw finished with 20 points apiece, while J.P. Buller and Jimmi Jensen each scored 15 for Yakutat. Klukwan plays again at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Klukwan has won the C Bracket three years in a row, and Friske (the tournament MVP in 2017) said the key moving forward is to maintain their energy level for the full game. They didn’t do that Sunday against Hoonah, he said, and it cost them.

Team of ‘alternates’ competes on short notice

Just 10 days before the start of Gold Medal, Tony Harding got a phone call. Harding, the coach of the Wrangell team, wasn’t expecting it. Wrangell didn’t have enough players for a team this year, but it turned out neither did Klukwan — a team that was scheduled to be in the B Bracket field this year.

Harding was asked if he could get a team together on that short of notice. He did just that, combining the Klukwan players who were still interested and grabbing fellow Wrangell player Curtis Kautz. Harding also checked around for a couple friends in Juneau who he knew played basketball.

Somehow, in just those few short days, the Alternates team was born.

The players hadn’t played together until they stepped on the court until Sunday morning, when they played Metlakatla to start the tournament. They hung around, staying within striking distance until the fourth quarter when Metlakatla for a 105-85 victory.

Tuesday’s game against Haines didn’t go quite as well. The defending champions defeated the Alternates, 97-51, eliminating them from the tournament.

“It was very hard,” Alternates player Guy Bean said. “It was kind of like putting an open gym team together and try to run against people who have been playing and have chemistry.”

Despite the lopsided losses, Harding said he was impressed by the way the players fought.

“I’m proud of the guys for actually coming out,” Harding said. “It was a last-minute thing. Some of the guys actually canceled trips to play in this. It was fun, and it’s always enjoyable to play in front of Gold Medal fans, you know?”

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