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Ninilchik's boys basketball team is ready to chase a third straight 2A state title

Mar. 14—Coming into this season, the two-time defending 2A state champion Ninilchik boys basketball team had high hopes they'd be able to repeat again — and that belief hasn't wavered.

However, the Wolverines' journey to this week's state tournament featured more ups and downs than they've been accustomed to in recent years due to the loss of a highly impactful senior class in 2023. Those players included star guard Colvin Moore and standout forward Jaylin Scott, who is a redshirt freshman on the University of Alaska Anchorage men's basketball team.

"We don't have that true leader that we've had for the last couple of years, but they're starting to figure it out right now, and things are starting to click," Ninilchik head coach Nick Finley said.

They graduated six seniors from last year's title-winning team. "Three of them were just key to what we've done the last two years winning back-to-back state titles," Finley said.

Even though losing those program pillars was a big blow, he was confident that ascending young players such as sophomore Kade McCorison and senior Rowan Mahoney, who are both team captains this year, would step up on the court and help fill the leadership void.

"They have, but it has just taken a little bit longer than I had hoped," Finley said.

The Wolverines tested themselves this season like they usually do, by scheduling multiple games against teams from the 3A and 4A levels. While they wound up losing more games than they had in the previous three seasons combined, they still boast a record of 18-9 — and only three losses came against 2A competition.

"We've lost a few more games, but they've all been pretty darn close," Finley said. "We challenged ourselves this year and we're excited to see that pay off this week."

Overall, the Wolverines are a young team with six freshmen and three sophomores accounting for over half of the roster, and they've gotten contributions from everyone this year as they've begun to hit their stride heading into state.

"We are young and inexperienced, and even some of our leaders are pretty inexperienced because we've been blessed to have such a great group of guys ahead of them that they've never had to step up to be the leaders before," Finley said.

Ninilchik is entering this year's state tournament as the No. 6 seed, and the team's expectations are the same as they are every year.

"We're going into state planning to win it all," Finley said.

The Wolverines face a tough challenge in the opening round, going up against No. 3 seed Petersburg, who they beat in the semifinals last year. Their matchup will be one of the later games on Thursday with tipoff set for 6:15 p.m.

"Coach Rick Brock has been there for 30-plus years, and he and I had some tough games over the years," Finley said. "I'm excited to be playing them in the first round. It's going to be a challenge, but it doesn't matter who you're up against, you have to show up ready to go."

He believes that the field is pretty even across the board at this year's state tournament with good teams throughout the bracket.

"It will depend on who is ready to show up at this time of year," Finley said. "If we can beat Petersburg, then we'll focus on the next one going forward."

ASAA 2A State Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center

Girls

Thursday

Game 1: No. 1 Tikigaq v. No. 8 Haines at 4:45 p.m.

Game 2: No. 4 Glennallen v. No. 5 Unalakleet at 9:30 a.m.

Game 3: No. 3 Nenana v. No. 6 Hooper Bay at 8 a.m.

Game 4: No. 2 Metlakatla v. No. 7 Susitna Valley at 3:15 p.m.

Friday

Consolation

Loser of Game 1 v. Loser of Game 2 at 8 a.m.

Loser of Game 3 v. Loser of Game 4 at 9:30 a.m.

Semifinals

Tikigaq/Haines v. Glennallen/Unalakleet at 4:45 p.m.

Nenana/Hooper Bay v. Metlakatla/Susitna Valley at 3:15 p.m.

Saturday

Fourth/Sixth place

Winner of Consolation 1 v. Winner of Consolation 2 at 8 a.m.

Third/Fifth place

Loser of Game 5 v. Loser of Game 6 at 11 a.m.

Championship

Winner of Game 5 v. Winner of Game 6 at 6:30 p.m.

Boys

Thursday

Game 1: No. 1 Hooper Bay v. No. 8 Unalaska at 11 a.m.

Game 2: No. 4 Metlakatla v. No. 5 Unalakleet at 12:30 p.m.

Game 3: No. 3 Petersburg v. No. 6 Ninilchik at 6:15 p.m.

Game 4: No. 2 Cordova v. No. 7 Wrangell at 3:15 p.m.

Friday

Consolation

Loser of Game 1 v. Loser of Game 2 at 11 a.m.

Loser of Game 3 v. Loser of Game 4 at 12:30 p.m.

Semifinals

Hooper Bay/Unalaska v. Metlakatla/Unalakleet at 6:15 p.m.

Petersburg/Ninilchik v. Cordova/Wrangell at 7:45 p.m.

Saturday

Fourth/Sixth place

Winner of Consolation 1 v. Winner of Consolation 2 at 9:30 a.m.

Third/Fifth place

Loser of Game 5 v. Loser of Game 6 at 3 p.m. at 12:30 p.m.

Championship

Winner of Game 5 v. Winner of Game 6 at 8:30 p.m.