Before reaching high school, Kodiak’s current crop of seniors dreamed of winning a basketball state championship.
“In middle school, I remember us saying, ‘What if we could win state,”’ senior Hannah Wandersee said. “Back in middle school it was such a big deal; it is still a big deal. We never thought we would be this close.”
The girls are three victories away from making that dream a reality.
For the first time in program history, Kodiak enters the 4A state championship with a perfect record. The Bears emerged from the regular season and the Northern Lights Conference championships with a 24-0 record.
Most of the players are unaware of the win streak, which stands at 26 dating back to last season.
“I don’t even know what our record is,” senior Adriane Horn said. “I know that we are undefeated, but I don’t know how many games we have won. I think it is good that we don’t have it in our head.”
Top-seeded Kodiak puts its undefeated record on the line against eighth-seeded Dimond, the Cook Inlet Conference’s third-place team, at 8:45 p.m. today at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
The winner advances to a 3:30 p.m. semifinal Friday, while the loser’s state dreams are popped.
Kodiak is playing for the school’s first girls state title since 1981. Last year’s team had a chance at ending the drought, but were upset by sixth-seeded Lathrop in a game that tipped at 8 a.m. The Bears rebounded with wins in their next two games to finish fourth.
Kodiak is hoping to not duplicate last year’s opening round against an opponent it beat by 17 points during the regular season.
“We learned not to take advantage of any team and to do one game at a time,” said Wandersee about last year’s state loss. “I think we were thinking after that game.”
Kodiak coach Amy Fogle has preached to her players this season about taking one game at a time. The team has.
Kodiak has won by double figures in 22 of its 24 victories and has only trailed a handful of times this season. The biggest deficit the Bears have faced was nine points to Wasilla in the NLC semifinal game.
“We just got to go out and play our game and worry about Thursday night and nothing else,” Fogle said. “We can not worry about our next bracket, what time we play and who we play. We have to worry about the first game and that is our only worry right now.”
Fogle knows the pressure associated with taking a team with a perfect record to state.
The veteran coach led the 2001 Kodiak boys to a perfect season that was capped with a come-from-behind win over East Anchorage in the state championship game.
That season captivated the island just like this year’s girls season has.
“I don’t know if these kids are feeling the expectations,” Fogle said. “Honestly, it is the state tournament, but really it is just three more games. The stakes are higher because if you lose we don’t have an opportunity to win it.”
Fogle is Kodiak’s third head coach in four years. She knew she was inheriting a good team when she took over for Stephanie Smiley, who left to take a job at Eastern Michigan University this season.
Fogle felt like an outsider on her own team until after winning the Lady T-Bird Classic to begin the season.
“They were not my team. I didn’t really feel like they were my team,” she said. “I was in here practicing with them and it didn’t feel like my team. I feel like when we traveled to the East tournament they became more and more my team.”
The team hasn’t stopped winning since that opening weekend, but despite the perfect record, the team has yet to play a perfect game.
“If you get all five of these kids and your bench operating on all cylinders at the same time, I think it would be pretty exciting and I don’t think we have had that happen,” Fogle said.
Maybe Kodiak is saving its perfection for when it matters the most — the championship game.
Contact Mirror writer Derek Clarkston at firstname.lastname@example.org.