For the past week, players on Kodiak’s girls basketball team have been rising well before sunrise.
They did not wake up early to stargaze, but rather to run up and down a court in preparation for today’s 4A state opener against Lathrop at 8 a.m.
The team’s morning practices are to acclimate the players to the unlucky draw of a morning game.
At first, Carissa Cannon thought she would need a couple of espresso shots to get started, but soon realized playing basketball in the morning was just like playing basketball in the evening.
“Whenever we have practice at 6 in the morning, everyone is pretty hyper and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” she said.
The Bears have had a remarkable season so far and are looking to top it off with at least one win at state. Kodiak is winless in its past two state tournament appearances and haven’t been on the winning side of a state game since 1987.
Up first for the third-ranked and 20-7 Bears is No. 6 Lathrop, the Mid-Alaska Conference runner-up.
Lathrop matches up well against Kodiak and features 6-foot-2 freshman Ruthy Hebard, who is a force down low.
“She has the potential to have a triple-double,” Kodiak coach Stephanie Smiley said.
In Kodiak’s 47-42 win over Lathrop in January, Hebard scored 14 points and posed a challenge — offensively and defensively — for the Bears’ 6-foot-1 Hannah Wandersee
“She block shots, a lot,” Wandersee said. “She is tall and holds the ball up high and shoots it from there. It is hard to get to her.”
In the January meeting at Lathrop, Kodiak didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter and struggled to defend Lathrop’s guards.
“We have both improved since the last time we met each other, but we definitely had a hard time guarding the dribble-drive,” Smiley said. “That is going to be huge if we want to stay out of foul trouble.”
Kodiak’s girls are confident heading into their first state tournament appearance since 2010, and they should be. The Bears started the year by winning 17 straight games and made the Northern Lights Conference championship game for the first time since 1987.
Kodiak lost the championship game to undefeated and top-ranked Wasilla (27-0), but the Bears enter today’s double-elimination, three-day tournament knowing they can compete with the state’s best — the Bears have beaten four of the seven other teams playing this week.
The two teams Kodiak has not beaten: Wasilla and No. 2 Dimond. Five of the Bears’ seven losses have been to those two schools, but Kodiak did beat Dimond in a late-season endowment game.
If Kodiak gets past Lathrop today, the Bears would most likely face Dimond, which plays Mid-Alaska Conference champion West Valley today, in Friday’s 3:30 p.m. semifinal. A loss to Lathrop would drop the Bears to a consolation game at 8 a.m. Friday against the Dimond/West Valley loser.
Wasilla is on the other side of the bracket and begins its quest for a third straight state title against No. 8 Juneau-Douglas, the Southeast Conference champion.
Kodiak is hoping it can pull an upset in Alaska’s version of March Madness and reach Saturday’s championship game where it could face Wasilla for the fourth time this season.
“That is what we are striving for,” Wandersee said. “This is what we have worked for all season.”
Smiley isn’t looking to what looms ahead for Kodiak as it searches for its first state victory since placing since finishing sixth in 1987.
“What it comes down to is you have to win your first game before you worry about anything else,” she said.
Contact Mirror writer Derek Clarkston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Sullivan Arena
8 a.m. — No. 3 Kodiak vs. No. 6 Lathrop
9:45 a.m. — No. 4 Colony vs. No. 5 West Anchorage
3:30 p.m. — No. 2 Dimond vs. No. 7 West Valley
5:15 p.m. — No. 1 Wasilla vs. No. 8 Juneau-Douglas
11:30 a.m. — No. 2 Colony vs. No. 7 Thunder Mountain
1:15 p.m. — No. 4 Lathrop vs. No. 5 West Anchorage
7 p.m. — No. 3 East Anchorage vs. No. 6 Palmer
8:45 p.m. — No. 1 Service vs. No. 8 Dimond
8 a.m. — Bethel vs. Seward
9:45 a.m. — Monroe vs. Grace
3:30 p.m. — Mt. Edgecumbe vs. Valdez
5:15 p.m. — ACS vs. Nome
11:30 a.m. — Barrow vs. Seward
1:15 p.m. — Hutchison vs. Houston
7 p.m. — ACS vs. Nome
8:45 p.m. — Sitka vs. Valdez