The buzzer had hardly sounded before Skagway fans were swarming their team’s bench.
The Skagway women’s team — playing in its first ever Gold Medal tournament — had just defeated Haines 58-49, winning the city’s first Gold Medal title in any bracket since 1973. Many of Skagway’s fans weren’t able to make it down until the weekend, and they cheered loudly enough Saturday to make up for time lost.
John O’Daniel, father of Skagway’s Hannah O’Daniel and Kaylie Smith, hugged his daughters and raised them high in the air in celebration in the moments immediately following the victory.
“I darn near passed out, I got so nervous,” John O’Daniel said afterward. “Typical them, they like to make it a little bit hard on us, wait to the last minute to pull away.”
There were 14 lead changes during Saturday’s championship game, which was fast-paced and physical as teams grappled for momentum. Smith was key for Skagway on both ends of the court, leading the way with 21 points and earning Defensive Player of the Tournament honors.
Jesse Ellis, who won Tournament MVP, scored 16 points in the title game and averaged 18.8 points per game in Skagway’s undefeated run through the tournament. Though this was their first year playing at Gold Medal together, many of the Skagway players had played together in high school and had captured back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011.
“We just worked really well as a team,” Smith said. “We’re all of the same basketball minds. We all grew up with the same coaches and we all grew up a little bit apart from each other.”
Haines, which won the tournament in 2016 and 2017 and went to the title game again in 2018 and 2019, also had a bit of a new look this year. New addition Rachel Brittenham led the way for Haines throughout the tournament, facilitating the offense and scoring 22 points in the title game.
O’Daniel said he was 5 years old when Skagway won the B Bracket championship in 1973, and said the town has been whipped into a frenzy by this Gold Medal run. He said the plan is to put a huge display in the local Ace Hardware with the trophies and photos of the team.
“We’ll celebrate for a whole month until the tourists show up,” O’Daniel said. “Then we have to put Ulus and t-shirts in the window. But until then, we’re putting the Gold Medal trophy in the window.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.