Kodiak girls begin quest to state

Kodiak’s Hannah Wandersee shoots a free throw during a high school basketball game against Dimond Friday, March 1 at Kodiak High School. (Derek Clarkston photo)

While the Northern Lights Conference Championships kicked off Thursday at Soldotna High School, Kodiak’s girls basketball team spent part of its day at Cook Inlet Academy.

Kodiak coach Stephanie Smiley wanted her team to get one more practice before facing Colony in today’s semifinal round at 4:15 p.m. The winner clinches a berth to the 4A state tournament and advances to Saturday’s championship game.

The Bears, the No. 2 seed, earned an opening-round bye, while the Knights, the No. 3 seed, beat Kenai on Thursday to earn the right to face Kodiak for the fourth time this season.

Smiley said not playing Thursday could be a disadvantage to her team, which finished the season with a 6-4 NLC record, 19-6 overall.

“Going in there fresh could be an advantage, but it is kind of an advantage to play a game beforehand,” she said. “What it comes down to is whoever works the hardest is probably going to win this game.”

Kodiak has beaten Colony three times this season, but all three games were close. The Bears’ average margin of victory was five points, and all three games were won in the fourth quarter. Colony held Kodiak, a team averaging 46 points per game, to less than 40 points twice.

“Colony is a tough team. They know what we do; we know what they do. It is all out on the table,” Smiley said. “What they have done well was defend us. They held us well below what we are averaging for the season. Their guard pressure is pretty suffocating at times.”

Unlike the first three games, a state-tournament berth is on the line. The loser drops to Saturday’s third-place game and has to wait until Sunday to see if they earned one of the two at-large berths awarded to the top two teams in the winning percentage index that did not automatically qualify for the state tournament.

Kodiak is ranked third in the WPI behind Wasilla and Dimond, and barring any upsets will earn its first state tournament appearance since 2010 and third since 1986 regardless of what happens over the next two days.

Smiley isn’t taking anything for granted.

“That is a little bit scary to me,” she said. “I would rather win Friday night and not worry about it.”

Kodiak’s early season success was enough to give the Bears a first-round bye and has the team on the verge of advancing to state. The team set a school record by winning its first 17 games.

Wins have been hard to come by since then as leading scorers Hannah Wandersee and Jerica Nelson have both missed games. The Bears are 2-6 in their last six games with losses to Wasilla, Dimond and Soldotna.

Kodiak did earn a four-point endowment-game win over Dimond last Saturday, and Smiley hopes that same team shows up today.

“You can tell them how much potential they have, but actually beating the No. 2 team in the state, rather it is a game that counts in your schedule or towards the WPI or not, is great for confidence,” Smiley said.

“I’m liking what I am seeing,” she added. “It sure seems we are peaking right now.”

Colony 45, Kenai 27

Colony withstood a first-quarter scare to breeze by Kenai 45-27.

The No. 3 Knights trailed 15-11 after the first quarter, before holding No. 6 Kenai to single-digit quarters the rest of the way.

Jennifer Solano scored a game-high 17 for Colony, while Mary Klapperich added eight points and eight rebounds.

Sydney Taylor had eight points for Kenai. The Kardinals drop to a season-ending consolation game today.

Soldotna 49, Palmer 39

Kelci Benson hit three 3-pointers and scored 21 points to lead No. 4 Soldotna to a 10-point win over No. 5 Palmer.

The Moose got 23 points from senior Taylor Blake, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the home team.

Soldotna advances to play undefeated and No. 1 seed Wasilla today at 7:45 p.m. The Warriors are 25-0 on the season.

Palmer plays Kenai in a tournament-ending consolation game today at 12:45.

The game featured six ties and five lead changes. Soldotna, which only scored one point in the second quarter lead by two to begin the fourth. The Stars put the game away by hitting eight of their 10 free throws in the final period.

Katelynn Kerkvliet added 11 points for Soldotna, while Kaille Skiold chipped in seven points and eight rebounds.

Contact Mirror writer Derek Clarkston at sports@kodiakdailymirror.com.

KNIGHTS 45, KARDINALS 27

Kenai 15 3 4 5 — 27

Colony 11 14 8 12 — 45

Kenai (27) — Ostrander 0 0-0 0, English 2 1-2 6, Drury 0 0-0 0, Taylor 3 2-4 8, Steinbeck 0 1-2 1, Norvelle 2 0-1 4, Ross 2 0-0 4, Barcus 0 4-6 4, Every 0 0-0 0. Totals — 9 8-15 27.

Colony (45) — Klapperich 2 3-6 8, Farris 3 0-0 8, Tweed 1 0-0 3, Scott 0 0-0 0, Stephens 1 0-1 2, Turcotte 1 0-0 2, Willardson 0 0-0 0, Brumbaugh 0 1-2 1, Michaelson 0 4-4 4, Solano 5 7-8 17, Bonn 0 0-0 0. Totals — 13 15-21 45.

Three-point goals — Kenai 1 (English); Colony 4 (Farris 2, Klapperich, Tweed).

Total fouls — Kenai 20; Colony 19. Fouled out — Norvelle.

STARS 49, MOOSE 39

Palmer 14 6 11 8 — 39

Soldotna 16 1 16 16 — 49

Palmer (39) — Southwick 0 0-0 0, K. DePriest 3 0-1 8, Scott 1 0-0 5, Osiensky 0 0-0 0, Straight 0 1-2 1, Blake 9 2-5 23, L. DePriest 0 2-2 2. Totals — 14 5-10 39.

Soldotna (49) — Benson 5 2-2 21, Kress 0 0-0 0, Litchfield 3 1-2 7, Wong 0 1-2 1, Hendriks 0 0-0 0, Kerkvliet 4 3-4 11, Westerman 1 0-0 7, Skiold 2 3-6 7. Totals — 15 10-16 49.

Three-point goals — Palmer 2 (Blike, Scott); Soldotna 3 (Benson 3).

Team fouls — Palmer 15; Soldotna 12.

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