Thunder Mountain High School senior Jenna Dobson (5) defends Mountain City senior Morgan Maldonado during the Falcons’ 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th-place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School senior Jenna Dobson (5) defends Mountain City senior Morgan Maldonado during the Falcons’ 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th-place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School girls end historic final season at state tournament

Falcons battle, but fall 52-37 in third-place game loss to Mountain City.

“I’m just really proud of this team,” Thunder Mountain High School senior Jaya Carandang said after the final buzzer of the school’s final season sounded Saturday. “The last two years we won back-to-back regions. It is kind of emotional, but I try not to take it on myself alone…it is just really hard and I am proud of this team and I hope the best luck for them next year.”

The fourth-ranked TMHS Falcons girls basketball team had just played up and down in their 52-37 Saturday morning loss to third-ranked Mountain City Christian Academy in the 3rd/5th place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center.

Twin sister Mikah Carandang also stated how proud she was “and for how far we have come.”

The star guards struggled to comment further as the emotion of the final buzzer was still sinking in.

“I’m proud that everyone did what they came to do and we all put up a fight,” M. Carandang said. “We knew that this would be the last end to a really good season.”

Thunder Mountain High School seniors Mikah Carandang (4), Jenna Dobson (5), Kara Strong (33), Ashlyn Gates (2), Kairdree Hartman (24) and Jaya Carandang (3) pose for a photo outside their locker room after the Falcons final game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School seniors Mikah Carandang (4), Jenna Dobson (5), Kara Strong (33), Ashlyn Gates (2), Kairdree Hartman (24) and Jaya Carandang (3) pose for a photo outside their locker room after the Falcons final game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

TMHS is slated to convert to a middle school next year, with all high school students consolidated at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé as part of a restructuring plan approved by the Juneau Board of Education to deal with an ongoing financial crisis. Six Falcons varsity players returning next year will become part of the JDHS Crimson Bears’ program.

Thunder Mountain (23-5) trailed 2-1 when Mountain City (23-4) put together a 15-2 run over the first eight minutes of action for a 17-3 advantage on an assortment of shots by seniors Maliyah Alex and Morgan Maldonado and sophomore Jasmine Schaeffer.

“We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs this season with our streaks and stuff,” TMHS senior Jenna Dobson said after the game. “I’m proud that we all worked hard to the end even though it didn’t have the outcome we wanted. I’m really excited for the girls who aren’t graduating to play next year because I know they are going to do amazing things.”

The ups, downs and amazing things hit in the second stanza as the Falcons outscored the Lions 15-7 on scores by junior twins Kerra and Cailynn Baxter, senior twins Jaya and Mikah Carandang, senior Ashlynn Gates and sophomore Cambry Lockhart to close within six, 24-18, at the half.

“I’m just so proud of the team, as a captain, watching everyone grow through the years,” Gates said after the game. “Just growing in skills and growing together as a team. It’s been amazing to get to know everyone on this team and I’m really sad to be leaving, but I’m excited to see how they do next year.”

Thunder Mountain High School senior Cailynn Baxter takes hard defense from Mountain City senior Morgan Maldonado during the Falcons’ 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th-place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center.(Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School senior Cailynn Baxter takes hard defense from Mountain City senior Morgan Maldonado during the Falcons’ 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th-place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center.(Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

The Falcons found themselves falling behind again as the Lions opened the third quarter on a 15-2 run to lead 39-20.

K. Baxter scored and was fouled. She missed the free throw, but C. Baxter battled for a reverse layup to trail 39-24.

Mountain City’s Maldonado struck from the arc and K. Baxter answered with two scores and J. Carandang another to trail 42-30 after three periods of action.

The Lions’ Schaeffer scored the first basket of the game and was answered by the Falcons’ K. Baxter who scored from the field and then added two free throws to cut the deficit to 44-34.

Lions’ sophomore Keelie Kronberger hit from past the arc and Maldonado had a steal for a basket for a 49-34 advantage.

With 1:47 remaining to play in the game Thunder Mountain’s K. Baxter hit the last basket in the girls’ historic and final season.

TMHS head coach Andy Lee put in five of his seniors to play the finish.

“I think back, you know, to being a freshman and coming up here (Anchorage) and losing, like 16-70 to some of these teams and getting kind of embarrassed…and know, our senior year, although we didn’t win today, getting to compete with some of those teams was really exciting to see how this program grew from being freshmen to being seniors.”

Thunder Mountain High School senior Mikah Carandang (4) dribbles through a half court press by Mountain City seniors Morgan Maldonado and Nyamach Mathot during the Falcons 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School senior Mikah Carandang (4) dribbles through a half court press by Mountain City seniors Morgan Maldonado and Nyamach Mathot during the Falcons 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Said TMHS senior Kaidree Hartman, “I’m proud to see how everyone has improved over the season and I’m really excited to see how everyone who isn’t graduating, especially the underclassmen, how they do next year and the following years.”

Mountain City’s Kronberger put a final basket in from past the arc for the 52-37 final.

K. Baxter led the Falcons with 16 points, Gates and C. Baxter had six apiece, Lockhart five and M. Carandang four.

TMHS hit 7-13 from the charity stripe, MCCA 2-2.

Kronberger led the Lions with 20 points, Maldonado 15, Schaeffer six, senior Maliyah Alex five, senior Nyamach Mathot four and sophomore Nyawuow Majiok two.

TMHS coach Lee said the state third/fifth-place game was the best in the school’s history.

“I’m so proud of these girls,” he said. “They played hard and we had the hardest path. We knew that going through the top three teams.”

Thunder Mountain High School junior Kerra Baxter battles for a ball with Mountain City senior Morgan Maldonado and sophomore Jasmine Schaeffer (23) during the Falcons’ 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th-place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School junior Kerra Baxter battles for a ball with Mountain City senior Morgan Maldonado and sophomore Jasmine Schaeffer (23) during the Falcons’ 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th-place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Looking ahead to next year goes just beyond the six varsity players who will be moving to JDHS.

Said Lee, “There are 25 players in our program coming back. We know now what the challenge is…we faced adversity, we were down 18-2 today and came all the way back to be down by four at the half. Yesterday we held Colony, the number one team, to 20 points in the first half. Our defensive effort was there, our effort was there and we never quit. We never backed down. We played until the end. The kids just have amazing character, amazing kids. You know, you wish you could play everybody 20 minutes…this is the big time and we are the fourth-best team. We truly are. I am satisfied to say that when you consider who the three best teams are, Colony, Wasilla and Mountain City…”

The Falcons had defeated fifth-ranked Dimond 58-47 to open the tournament and fell to top-seeded Colony 69-35 in the semifinals.

“We know what the mountain is,” Lee said. “This isn’t the peak for us, this is the valley before the next mountain peak for us,” Lee said. “We’re excited about the future. I’m going to celebrate this season, the last two seasons…this Falcons team will live on, if it’s the last time it is great that it was the best team.”

Said Gates, “I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported all of us throughout all of the years…through fundraising, through coming to games, through everything and I really think the Thunder Mountain community has come together and I love seeing all of the fans in blue and just thank you to everybody.”

Thunder Mountain High School sophomore Cambry Lockhart drives the baseline during the Falcons’ 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th-place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School sophomore Cambry Lockhart drives the baseline during the Falcons’ 52-37 loss to the Lions in the 3rd/5th-place game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

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