Saturday, April 13, 2024
HomeSportPrep Hoops: Wasilla takes a hit or two before earning first 4A...

Prep Hoops: Wasilla takes a hit or two before earning first 4A title since 2017 and eighth overall

Wasilla’s Mylee Anderson calls out a play. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

In its 10th year, the Alaska Airlines Center not also housing hockey is well known regardless of your personal sports fandom.

Yet, on the facility’s basketball court Saturday night, Savannah Kroon gloriously withstood the kind of body check puck heads adore.

No harm. No foul, and a long-awaited championship secured for Kroon and her Wasilla High teammates.

“I was just happy because I heard the (final) buzzer,” said Kroon, a sophomore. “I didn’t really care about anything else.”

After a last-second, hurried 3-point tying try by Colony failed, Kroon gathered the long rebound directly in front of the Knights’ bench. She paid a small price physically, falling to the floor after some Colony contact, and was a few seconds late to the Wasilla’s hug-a-thon near midcourt.

The Warriors, ranked first in the Alaska Sports Report/Coaches Poll, captured a rapt 35-32 March Madness Alaska championship victory over their Northern Lights Conference nemesis in front of an audience of several thousand. Wasilla won the program’s eighth 4A girls state title after back-to-back runner-up runs, first since 2017 and seventh under the legendarily watchful eye of coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax.

Junior uber-talent Mylee Anderson scored Wasilla’s final 12 points, including all 10 in the fourth quarter, and finished with a game-high 21. Her runner with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining gave the Warriors their final and sixth lead (33-32) of the evening. The game featured 11 leads changes and three ties, including two in the fourth quarter.

4A Girls All-Tournament
Kerra Baxter, Thunder Mountain
Morgan Maldonado, Mountain City
Mylee Anderson, Wasilla
Tonya Karpow, Colony
Keelie Kronberger, Mountain City
Hallie Clark, Colony
Layla Hays, Wasilla
Maile Wilcox, Dimond
Aryanna Watson, Service
Evan Hamey, Dimond

“It’s definitely a very mental game, over a physical one when playing Colony, our rival,” Anderson said. “Every time we play them, it’s about staying level and listening to ourselves as a team. They brought out an intense crowd, and of course, so did we.”

Sure-fire Division I prospect Layla Hays, 6-foot-5 and only a junior, only scored eight points. But was a major force throughout, finishing with 11 rebounds and five very-loud blocks.

Anderson said after the game that Hays has played a portion of the season with a broken foot.

“Layla has been going through it all season,” Anderson said. “We’ve been keeping it on the down low. She’s conquered and she deserved (Saturday’s) player of the game (honor).

“Such a great teammate and it just goes to show you it’s not all about points.”

Wasilla’s Layla Hays scores in the post. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

You’re not reading The Onion, but there’s so many layers to the show Wasilla (22-5) and second-ranked Colony (25-4) performed Saturday. They also delivered drama in four other meetings this season, three of them won by the Knights in the regular season, and historically since Colony started as a school in 1992, 17 years after Wasilla opened.

“It’s rivalry for sure,” Kroon concurred. “We played them five times, and lost the first three. But we won the two that counted.”

The two Matanuska-Susitna Valley teams have a combined 24 appearances – 48% – in the 50 girls state title games played since 1972. Wasilla won its first in 1982, Colony in 1995. But somewhat surprisingly, they never faced one another in the finale.

The Knights last won 4A state in 2008 and last appeared in the championship game in 2014.

Wasilla cheerleaders fire up the crowd. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

The teams went back and forth Saturday. Wasilla took a 19-18 lead into halftime only to see Colony score the third quarter’s first 11 points. It led 29-19 before the Warriors scored the quarter’s last six points.

“We played (well), but we could’ve played better,” said Colony freshman Jericho Wuestenberg, who totaled seven points and 11 rebounds in the loss. “I think we thought we had it. Wasilla came back and we just weren’t ready.”

Wasilla graduates only seniors Kaydence Gittlein, who was out with a left leg injury, and Bay Kauffman. Colony’s 12-player roster featured 11 underclassmen who should be back next season. Look at nearly every team that played at 2024’s 4A MMA, they all are expected to have major talent return.

Next season should be a doozy.

“We know this isn’t the end for us,” Wuestenberg said.

Before leaving for Wasilla’s locker room, Hebert-Truax, deftly wearing a red-sequined jacket, confirmed she’ll return next season for what will be her 30th as the Warriors coach. Saturday’s victory was her 599th as she drew closer to the stratospheric 600-win plateau.

Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax hugs her players after victory was secured. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

However, this championship-winning season marked her first since retiring as a math teacher. It didn’t take long for the Warriors to notice a slight difference in approach as a retiree with some time on her hands.

“Herbert, I don’t even have words to explain what she means to us,” Anderson said. “But definitely, we did a lot more running this year. We’d come to practice, and she’d have our whole month scheduled. We didn’t have that the year before.

“This year, we knew exactly what we’re getting. We were prepped. It was crazy.”

WASILLA (35) – Bruno 0, Merchant 3, Kroon 2, Lynch 0, Anderson 21, Breshears 0, Boling 1, Jackson 0, Gittlein 0, Bredberg 0, Hays 8, Kauffman 0.
COLONY (32) – Waggoner 5, Ar. Shelley 0, Wuestenberg 7, Hopkins 0, Al. Shelley 5, Ainsworth 3, Larsen 0, Clark 3, Noll 0, Smith 0, Karpow 9, Spencer 0.
Wasilla 6 13 6 10 – 35
Colony 8 10 11 3 – 32

Colony’s Tonya Karpow battles for a rebound with Wasillla’s Layla Hays. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

THIRD PLACE

Any ill effects of Friday’s semifinal setback were quickly forgotten by third-ranked Mountain City Christian Academy in Saturday morning’s 52-37 third-place game win over fourth-ranked Thunder Mountain. The Lions jumped out to a 17-3 first-quarter lead and used a strong second half to close out the season on a successful note.

Sophomore Keelie Kronberger completed a powerful MMA showing with a 17-point performance, including five three-pointers for MCCA (23-4). Senior Morgan Maldonado ended her scholastic career with 15 points, six assists and five steals.

The game marked only the second meeting between the programs. MCCA posted a 66-44 win on Feb. 6, 2019. Saturday’s matchups is likely the final outing for Thunder Mountain. The Juneau-area school opened in 2008 and is expected to become the city’s junior high next season. Current Falcons will probably be Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears next season. We’ll have to wait and see.

Sophomore Kerra Baxter finished with 16 points for Thunder Mountain (23-5). Twin Cailynn Baxter added six points and a game-high seven rebounds.

THUNDER MOUNTAIN (37) – Lockhart 5, Gates 6, J. Carandang 0, M. Carandang 4, Dobson 0, Erickson 0, Frommerz 0, K. Baxter 16, C. Baxter 6, Hartman 0, Wilson 0, Strong 0.
MOUNTAIN CITY (52) – Nyat. Mijiok 3, Maldonado 15, Nyaw, Mijiok 2, Mathot 4, Alex 5, Kronberger 17, Pastana 0, Siatini 0, Schaeffer 6, Gundersen 0.
Thunder Mountain 3 15 12 7 – 37
Mountain City 17 7 18 10 – 52

FOURTH PLACE

Junior Evan Hamey, a 6-foot-2 post, made herself at home inside and helped lead fifth-ranked Dimond to a 47-36 win over Cook Inlet Conference rival Service in the fourth-place game. Hamey made eight of 11 two-point field goals and finished with a game-high 20 points.

Dimond finished 24-7. Service wrapped up 19-11 after winning 11 of its final 13 games. In a rarity, the Lynx and Cougars met five times. Dimond won four of the matchups. Service snagged the CIC tournament title with a 39-38 win on March 9.

Lynx senior Malie Wilcox, a Division II Adams State commit, ended a stellar scholastic run with 14 points and six rebounds.

As evidenced by the last-season run and its six rostered freshmen, Service will be intriguing to watch going forward. Freshman Sialeia Silva notched 16 points and freshman Rihkayalani Vanilau grabbed 10 rebounds. Senior Patricia Ferran finished with 10 points.

SERVICE (36) – Wells 0, Ferran 10, Kochutin 0, Lealaisalanoa 3, Watson 7, Vanilau 0, Silva 16, Erickson 0, Williams 0, Leniu 0.
DIMOND (47) – Ridgeway 1, Rodriguez 7, Hamey 20, Scott 2, Wilcox 14, Maisey 0, Cassidy 0, Ka. MacDonald 0, Pederson 1, Goldsberry 2, Ki. MacDonald 0.
Service 11 4 8 13 – 36
Dimond 12 12 13 10 – 47

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