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Several top contenders intend to capitalize on a wide-open 4A girls basketball field at state

Mar. 19—The Wasilla girls basketball team was defeated by Mountain City Christian Academy in each of the last two state 4A title games. This year, the Warriors are as driven as ever to finally get over the hump after sweeping the Lions in the regular season.

"As long as we play our game and do what we're supposed to do, I think it's going to be a very competitive tournament," Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert said.

After getting bested three times by top-seeded Colony during the regular season, the Warriors finally got the better of their crosstown rivals by beating the Knights in the Northern Lights Conference regional championship game.

"It was pretty sweet," Hebert said. "I was waiting for the day where I had (a team at) full strength. I knew we had our struggles throughout the season, and I knew toward the end we'd be playing our best basketball, and that's kind of what we're doing right now."

While the defeat they suffered at regions ended their 14-game winning streak, Colony girls head coach Chandice Kelly was somewhat relieved that her team was able to be humbled prior to the state tournament.

"It's tough to beat a great team four times in a row," she said. "They came out and they played, they wanted it more. Of course you never want to lose a game, but I think it's keeping us hungry."

The Knights are looking to claim the program's first state title since 2008, and Kelly feels this year's team can break that drought.

"They've finally bought in," Kelly said. "They just work hard. They're hungry. They just want to play and be the best. I think they've shown they are capable of being the best. We're excited to showcase our skills this week."

Another dangerous team to keep an eye on that could make some noise this week is No. 6 Service, led by the father-daughter duo of coach Harvey Watson and freshman sensation Aryanna Watson. While the Cougars are short on experience, their roster is loaded with young talent, highlighted by the 2023-24 Cook Inlet Conference Player of the Year.

"Teams are going to be scared to play us when they see us," Aryanna Watson said after the Cougars beat Dimond in the Region IV championship game.

Harvey Watson believes the best thing that could've happened to his young team was losing to Dimond the third and final time they played during the regular season. It marked their third straight loss, which gave them the motivation that sparked their current 10-game win streak heading into state.

"It flipped the switch for us," Watson said. "We were able to reflect, look in the mirror and find out what we weren't doing and what I wasn't doing as a coach."

Ever since then, they've been able to hold each other more accountable and overcome adversity more consistently than they did in the first half of the season.

"It gives us a lot of confidence and I think that we're going to do well at state," Aryanna Watson said.

There is a new level of excitement for every team in the girls 4A division this year in a post-Sayvia Sellers era whereas in the past, coaches felt like "the stars had to align just to get within 20 points" of the Lions with Sellers leading the way, according to Kelly.

[With Sayvia Sellers' reign over, Alaska girls 4A basketball has more title contenders]

"Any given day, someone can win it, so everyone has got to bring their 'A game' for three more days," Hebert said.

4A Girls Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center

Wednesday

Quarterfinals

No. 1 Colony vs. No.8 North Pole, 9:30 a.m. (Main court)

No. 2 Wasilla vs. No. 7 Bartlett, 3:15 p.m. (Main court)

No. 4 Thunder Mountain vs. No. 5 Dimond, 4:45 p.m. (Auxiliary gym)

No. 3 Mountain City Christian Academy vs. No. 6 Service, 7:45 p.m. (Main court)

Friday

Consolation

Loser MCCA/Service vs. Loser Wasilla/Bartlett, 9:30 a.m. (Auxiliary gym)

Loser Colony/North Pole vs. Loser Thunder Mountain/Dimond, 11 a.m. (Main court)

Semifinals

Winner Colony/North Pole vs. Winner Thunder Mountain/Dimond, 3:15 p.m. (Main court)

Winner MCCA/Service vs. Winner Wasilla/Bartlett, 4:45 p.m. (Main court)

Saturday

Consolation

4th/6th, 9 a.m. (Auxiliary gym)

3rd/5th, 9 a.m. (Main court)

Championship, 5:30 p.m. (Main court)