Daily Sitka Sentinel
Basketball coaches at Mt. Edgecumbe High School often lament losing their players for the better part of a month during the boarding school’s long holiday break. While other teams around the region are honing their plays and working on defensive sets, Edgecumbe players are scattered in villages and towns around Alaska.
But there’s a flip-side: fresh legs.
And sometimes Edgecumbe teams, with fewer miles on their tires, can get hot at the right time and make a postseason push.
That’s what MEHS girls coach Carl Blackhurst is banking on as the 2012 regular season winds down.
“I think the girls realize the opportunity with the talent they have,” Blackhurst said this week, as the Lady Braves prepared to take on Haines at B.J. McGillis Gymnasium this weekend. “We have a chance to make a run. By this time of year we really need to be rolling. If we’re going to do it, this is the time.”
The Lady Braves are 10-4 overall on the season and 6-2 in the conference. They face two tough games this weekend before closing out the regular season with a pair against conference-leading Sitka High.
Blackhurst called the Lady Wolves the “heavyweight favorites,” in the conference, but said the Lady Braves have a great shot at earning the second seed, a key step in their push to make a return trip to the state tournament.
“We really want that two seed, that’s the goal at this point,” he said.
Blackhurst saw a streak of state appearances by the Lady Braves die on his watch last season and he’s eager to get back to Anchorage for March basketball. The Lady Braves are just two seasons removed from a 3A state title, which at the time was the first for a Mt. Edgecumbe team in school history. The Lady Braves struggled last year, but have bounced back and find themselves in second-place in the conference with the Region V tournament less than two weeks away.
Parity has ruled the 3A girls conference this season, with many of the two-games series that define the Southeast schedule ending in splits. Sitka High is 8-0, but each of the other five teams other than MEHS has at least three losses. The Lady Braves’ two losses came on the road against Petersburg and Craig. If MEHS can grab the two seed, or hold on for the three, they can avoid a second-round game with the Sitka Lady Wolves, who are heavily favored to lock up the top seed and a first-round bye.
The Lady Braves have struggled a bit with injuries this season. Danielle Fields, a sophomore slated to start for MEHS, finally returned to action last month after recovering from a nagging hip injury that cost her the volleyball season, but suffered a concussion against Thunder Mountain and remains out. Mariah Martin, another starter, missed some time with tendonitis, but was back in the lineup last weekend against Metlakatla.
“It’s been kind of a rollercoaster trying to get all the girls healthy,” Blackhurst said.
He’s hopeful that Fields can return to the court at least in time for the Region V tournament, which opens Feb. 29 in Ketchikan, and that Martin stays healthy down the stretch.
Blackhurst said he liked some of what he saw in the two tight wins over Metlakatla last weekend. The Lady Braves executed offensively, scoring 49 points in one game and 47 in the other.
But the team’s defensive effort was lacking, Blackhurst said.
He said the team watched film of the games and did some “self-reflecting.”
“I really think the girls are motivated to bring it this weekend,” Blackhurst said. “Our focus is Haines... We have to make sure everybody on our team is doing their job defensively and rebounding.”
The Lady Braves will play Haines Friday and Saturday at MEHS, with varsity games at 7 p.m. both nights.