A trip that was nearly derailed from the start ended in jubilation for the Kodiak Middle School girls basketball team.
After missing seeding games in the Small School Tournament in Houston because of inclement weather on the island, the Grizzlies arrived just in time to run the table in Thursday’s bracket play to emerge as champions.
Kodiak came from behind in the championship game to defeat host Houston 35-28.
“We might have been smaller, and Houston might have had the home-court advantage, but never underestimate the heart of these girls because they have big ones,” longtime Kodiak coach Karly Gundersen said.
Kodiak was lucky to get to the end-of-the-season tournament.
The team endured three flight cancellations before finally leaving Wednesday evening.
Taking a page from the Kodiak High School wrestling team’s act of kindness, the middle school cheerleaders gave up their seats on RAVN’s Wednesday evening flight, so the KMS boys’ and girls’ basketball teams could get off The Rock. The boys also competed in the same tournament.
“It is just part of being a Kodiak athlete; you never know if your plane is going to make it out or not,” Gundersen said. “That is what makes our kids so special is their resilience.”
The cheerleaders arrived at the tournament on Thursday.
Because Kodiak missed the seeding round, both the boys and girls were seeded last in the four-team tournament.
“We had the disadvantage, but we tried not to look at it that way,” Gundersen said.
Kodiak upset No. 1 seed Houston, 35-27, in the first round, then took out Anchorage Christian, 25-18, in the semifinals.
“Things basically went our way. We executed our man-to-man press; we made important outside shots in our zone offense and, I knew if we boxed out their big girls, we had a really good chance because our girls were quick on their feet,” Gundersen said.
In the championship game, Houston, which battled back through the consolation bracket, grabbed a four-point lead midway through the final quarter.
That prompted Gundersen to call a timeout.
“I told the girls, this moment is where champions are made. We are down by four, we can either break right now, or you can execute our offense, stay focused and play our game,” Gundersen said.
We capitalized on their turnovers and scored. We just kept our focus.”
The middle school basketball season started in late September. In October, Kodiak hosted Colony and went 1-1 against the Knights.
Gundersen said she couldn’t recall the last time the KMS girls won a basketball tournament.
The team included Shanoah Spear, Jissele Blanco, Serenity Bushell, Chelsea Caldejon, Kamryn Price, Lakeisha Sanchez, Danica Howell, Kate Holland, Alyssa Medrano and Kylie Arneson.
Five of the girls are eighth graders, while five are seventh graders.
“We have some talented girls going to the high school and some talented girls who are still going to be here,” Gundersen said.
The KMS boys lost both their games in the tournament.