The Thunder Mountain High School girls’ basketball team runs a fast break against Bartlett High School on Friday in Anchorage. The Falcons, who played their first nine games on the road, open at home on Thursday against South Anchorage High School. (Screenshot from Thunder Mountain High School video)

The Thunder Mountain High School girls’ basketball team runs a fast break against Bartlett High School on Friday in Anchorage. The Falcons, who played their first nine games on the road, open at home on Thursday against South Anchorage High School. (Screenshot from Thunder Mountain High School video)

TMHS girls basketball team, 9-0 as road warriors, opens at home on Thursday

Falcons ranked second statewide, dominating opponents by an average per-game score of 66-25.

Despite an undefeated 9-0 season with wins by scores such as 81-12 and 73-16 — all on the road — the Thunder Mountain High School girls basketball team’s offense “isn’t clicking right now,” says Head Coach Andy Lee.

“Our offense isn’t where we need it to be,” he said in an interview Monday. “A part of that is I can’t get enough time on the court with our best lineup because we’re so far ahead.”

Instead, the entire varsity squad is getting an ample amount of playing time as the Falcons have soared to second place as of Monday in MaxPreps’ statewide 4A rankings. Juneau residents will get their first chance to see the team in person during its home opener at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday against South Anchorage High School (6-2 overall, ranked sixth).

It’s a long climb up after TMHS finished 4-19 during the 2021-22 season, then rebounded to win the Region V championship this past season and finished sixth statewide, losing its final consolation game to crosstown rival Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.

“We expected to be as good or better than we were last year simply because we have 10 of our top 11 players returning from that team,” Lee said. Two seniors from that team graduated “and even the girls that replace them are very good players. So our 12 is quite strong.”

The Thunder Mountain High School girls basketball team is ranked second in statewide 4A competition, according to the sports website MaxPreps. (Screenshot from maxpreps.com)

The Thunder Mountain High School girls basketball team is ranked second in statewide 4A competition, according to the sports website MaxPreps. (Screenshot from maxpreps.com)

But the number of points the team is scoring and the margins it is winning by — the average per-game score is 66-25 when rounding up in favor of their opponents — is something that hasn’t occurred since he began coaching the Falcons in 2019.

“We’re gelling,” Lee said. “We’re running the same concept and we have talented kids, we have kids that have bought into the program…I think they hear me say this all the time, but I just drive the bus. But they really have bought into the culture. They really are complimentary of each other and supportive of each other. And because of that they will be a very good team next year.”

In part that is because even though six seniors will graduate, the other players are getting that extensive floor time and the TMHS girls’ basketball program has a record 33 participants this year, he said.

“Right now the luxury is that each of our 12 players is perfectly capable of having the same amount of points because they’re getting the same amount of time as the starters,” Lee said.

Still, there are some notable standout players — including two sets of twins, but not simply because of the sibling ties…and their unusual contrasting dimensions.

Mika and Jaya Carandang are both 5’o” senior guards. Kerra and Cailynn Baxter, also are playing guard as juniors, but stand at 6’1” apiece.

Junior twins Cailynn and Kerra Baxter, outside, and senior twins Jaya and Mikah Carandang, inside, smile for a picture after a practice last season on Feb. 2, 2023, at Thunder Mountain High School. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

Junior twins Cailynn and Kerra Baxter, outside, and senior twins Jaya and Mikah Carandang, inside, smile for a picture after a practice last season on Feb. 2, 2023, at Thunder Mountain High School. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

“The Baxters are scorers,” Lee said. “They can score in a variety of ways they use their quickness, their size — they’re 6’1”, but they’re super athletic and quick. And the Carandangs, on the other hand, are surgeons. They they get to their spots on the floor, they shoot with a high level of competence. Someone called them sharks and said they score and they show no emotion, and when they miss they show no emotion. He said they just slice and dice.”

But while those four “are the core of the offense,” the “driver of the bus” on the court is 5’4” sophomore point guard Cambry Lockhart, who Lee said is equal to any in the state.

“They can all score on their own,” he said of Lockhart’s teammates. But “they’re that much more effective because they play with Cambry.”

In addition, Lee said team captain Ashlyn Gates, a 5’9” senior forward, has been the team’s best defensive player since last year, a notorious distinction given that five of the Falcons’ nine opponents this season have been held to 16 or fewer points.

The good news for Juneau residents hoping to see the TMHS girls in person is Thursday’s game is the first of 12 home games the team has this season, Lee said. The Falcons ended up playing a long opening string of road games because of quirks both in scheduling and the lack of willingness by some other schools to visit Juneau.

Many teams, especially in Anchorage and Fairbanks “simply don’t leave the road system,” he said. Also, with the first games starting the week before Christmas breaks teams that are normally willing to travel are less so, meaning “we’re stuck with going to other people’s holiday events.”

Kerra Baxter (#22) goes up for a shot for Thunder Mountain High School in Friday’s game against Bartlett High School in Anchorage. (Screenshot from Thunder Mountain High School video)

Kerra Baxter (#22) goes up for a shot for Thunder Mountain High School in Friday’s game against Bartlett High School in Anchorage. (Screenshot from Thunder Mountain High School video)

But by this stage of their playing experience the students are used to the odd timing to catch flights, jet lag, unfamiliar courts and other aspects of being constantly on the road, Lee said.

“It’s less of a challenge because Juneau kids have a culture of travel,” he said. “If you look at Gastineau Little League, Hoop Rats, Hoop Time and youth soccer, Juneau athletes grow up on the road. We very seldom get to celebrate our best 11-, 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds playing locally against good competition because they’re in San Bernardino for Little League, or they’re in Hawaii for youth soccer, or they’re in the valley up north for youth basketball.”

Thursday will also mark the start of the inaugural three-day Elizabeth Peratrovich Women’s High School Basketball Tournament, featuring the Falcons’ junior varsity and C teams against teams from Angoon, Dillingham, Hoonah and Skagway. Lee said the plan is to hold the tournament annually, including adding the TMHS varsity and other 4A teams to next year’s competition.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

More in Sports

The author’s wife fights a steelhead while the author contemplates fly selection. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: The fear of missing fish

Student: “You know, FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out” Me: “I know… Continue reading

Astrophysicists Lindsay Glesener, left, and Sabrina Savage enjoy the sunshine on an observation deck at the Neil Davis Science Center on a hilltop at Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Waiting for the sun at Poker Flat

POKER FLAT RESEARCH RANGE — Under a bluebird sky and perched above… Continue reading

Maddy Fortunato, a Chickaloon middle school student, sets to attempt the one-hand reach by touching a suspended ball while remaining balanced on the other hand during the Traditional Games on Sunday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Striving for the perfect balance of competition, camaraderie at seventh annual Traditional Games

More than 250 participants pursue personal goals while helping others during Indigenous events.

Purple mountain saxifrage blooms on cliffs along Perseverance Trail in early April. (Photo by Pam Bergeson)
On the Trails: Flowers and their visitors

Flowers influence their visitors in several ways. Visitors may be attracted by… Continue reading

Elias Lowell, 15, balances his way to the end of the pond during the annual Slush Cup at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Sunday, the last day of what officials called and up-and-down season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Up-and-down season at Eaglecrest ends on splashy note with Slush Cup

Ski area’s annual beach party features ice-filled water, snowy shores and showboating skimmers.

Aren Gunderson of the UA Museum of the North inspects the back paw of a Siberian tiger donated recently by officials of the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage after the tiger died at age 19. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Siberian tiger takes final rest at museum

It’s a safe bet that Aren Gunderson’s Toyota Tundra is the only… Continue reading

A rainbow connects with Kajson Cunningham (30) as he connects with the ball for Thunder Mountain High School during Tuesday’s game against Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé at JDHS, the opening match of the season for both teams. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
High school soccer season starts with a spectrum of goals and milestones

JDHS boys begin state title defense with 4-0 victory over TMHS, which is playing its final season.

Donovan Jackson, 12, of Juneau competes in the one-foot high kick during the 2022 Traditional Games on April 2, 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file photo)
Record number of participants expected for seventh annual Traditional Games

Teams from Alaska, Canada and Lower 48 to compete in 12 Indigenous skills events starting Friday.

Alwen Carrillo, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, signs a letter of intent on Monday to play college basketball at Edmond College in Lynnwood, Washington. (Photo courtesy of Annie Lazo-Chappell)
Alwen Carrillo signs letter of intent to play basketball for Edmond College

All-state JDHS guard averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists during senior season.

Most Read