Daily Sitka Sentinel

Sitka Lady Wolves Ready for State Tourney

    It’s their only loss of the season to a 3A team, a 46-36 defeat at the hands of the defending state champion Barrow Lady Whalers back in February, at a gymnasium a few blocks from the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
    The Lady Wolves have seen the tape. And they think it will be different this time around.
    “I think we’re going to come out with a lot more intensity,” Kelsi Kubik said this week, as fellow seniors Sariah Ady and Karly Fuller nodded along.
    “That was just a so-so night,” Fuller added. “We know we can play a lot better.”
    The Lady Wolves open the state tournament against Barrow Thursday at 9:45 a.m. in Anchorage.
    It’s a game that most assumed would happen in the later rounds, perhaps with a state title on the line. But the Lady Whalers dropped a game to Dillingham at their regional tournament and ended up as the two seed out of the Western Conference.
    And with the 3A state match-ups based on geography rather than seeding, it means that arguably the two best 3A girls teams in the state will play on the first day of the state tournament.
    The news of Barrow’s loss made the rounds at Ketchikan High School, site of the Region V tournament, even before Sitka had knocked off Craig to lock up the Southeast title. And once the Lady Whalers beat Bethel and Nome on the backside of their regional bracket, Barrow’s date with Sitka High was booked for March 15 at Sullivan Arena.
    It’s not ideal to play a team like Barrow in the first-round, but SHS coach Rich Krupa and his players have accepted the challenge, believing that t to win a state title hey were going to have to go through the Lady Whalers one way or the other.
    “They’re looking forward to it,” Krupa said. “They know they didn’t play their best ball up there.”
    The Lady Wolves are 23-4 overall on the season. Their win over Craig in the Region V title game ran their record against conference opponents to 52-5 over the last four seasons.
    The Lady Wolves lost twice to Juneau-Douglas this season, including a 50-44 defeat in the 2012 crossover game, and dropped a game to Dimond. Both of those schools will be in Anchorage this week for the 4A state tournament.
    Sitka’s loss to Barrow, coming on the third day of a round robin tournament held on the Lady Whalers’ home court, remains the only loss for the Lady Wolves to a 3A school.
    And now, they hope it stays that way.
    The Lady Wolves came into the season with a deep group of players that coach Krupa thought could compete for a state championship. And they need three straight wins this week to bring the trophy back to Baranof Island. It would be the first state basketball title for a Sitka girls teams and just the second overall in the school history.
    To date, the best performance by a Sitka girls team came in 1989, when the Lady Wolves lost the 4A state championship game to East Anchorage. The lone Sitka boys hoops title dates back to 1954.
    The focus at state is always on the first game and that’s particularly true for the Lady Wolves this year.
    “We don’t think about the next day at all,” senior guard Katina Wathen said.
    It’s not quite the dreaded 8 a.m. game – the Craig Lady Panthers will take on Dillingham in that slot tomorrow – but 9:45 a.m. is still early for a basketball game and Krupa held a few morning practices in the days leading up to state.
    “The intensity has been really good in the morning,” said Hunter Huddlestun, another of the SHS seniors. “If we stay confident, we’ll pick it up as a team.”
    The strength of the Lady Wolves all season has been their depth. Krupa likes to say that he has 9 starters and it’s more than rhetoric. Sitka has two talented post players in Ady and Megan Reid and can rotate through a host of guards that bring defensive pressure and can push the pace, particularly off turnovers. Some teams, like Craig, have managed to stay with Sitka for a half, but the Lady Wolves’ deep rotation eventually takes its toll. And that’s what Krupa is looking for Thursday.
    “We want to box out and push,” he said. “We need to wear them out.”
    The Lady Whalers were dominant in 2011, going 26-0 on their way to a state title. That team had five seniors, including 3A player of the year Nicole Smith and fellow first team all-state player Melissa Gerke. Smith torched Sitka for 33 points during a Holland America tournament game here in December 2010.
    The 2012 Lady Whalers are led by first team all-state center Lynette Hepa, a junior who is listed at 6’3.’’ The Lady Wolves gave up 26 points to Juneau center Gabi Fenumiai in the crossover game earlier this month – she had 21 in the second half – and worked on post defense during their week off.   The match-up inside between Ady and Hepa figures to be a key to tomorrow’s game. Krupa brought in Chatham Conner, a 6’3’’ junior on the Wolves junior varsity team who is a two-way lineman during football season, to play the part of Hepa during recent practices.
    Hepa typically gets over 20 points a game and during their wins on the backside of the regional bracket, Barrow got some high point totals from Dana Chrestman (junior, forward), Hillary Lowery (junior, forward) and Angela Miguel (sophomore, guard), according to the Arctic Sounder.
    The Lady Wolves almost had a shot at Barrow during state  last year, losing on a last-second shot to Kotzebue in the 3A semifinals.
    The Lady Wolves rallied the next day and won the third-place game for the third straight year.
    Krupa was happy that day: finishing third in the state is a good accomplishment.
    But he really wanted the Lady Wolves to be playing later in the day, on the center court at Sullivan Arena.
    That’s the hope again in 2012. And the road starts Thursday against Barrow.

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