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LKSD basketball champs Chefornak and Toksook Bay advance to state tournament

Desiree Hagen
The Chefornak Lady Shamans smile after their tournament victory against the Tuntutuliak Lady Blue Jays.

The Lower Kuskokwim School District’s basketball tournament concluded March 5. In the girls' championship game, the reigning champion Chefornak Lady Shamans held onto their title, defeating the Tuntutuliak Lady Blue Jays in a close match, 38-30. In the boys' game, a new champion emerged. The Toksook Bay Islanders beat the previous title-holders, the Chefornak Shamans, 78-21.

The girls played first, pitting the Chefornak Shamans against the Tuntutuliak Lady Blue Jays. The Lady Shamans started with a slight lead against the Blue Jays, leading 10-4 by the end of the first quarter. They maintained their lead throughout the game, though rarely more than 10 points ahead of Tuntutuliak.

Tuntutuliak’s Lady Blue Jays held strong thanks to top scorers Aezlynn Carl and Janelle Smith, along with star rebounder Chandra Stone. They were equally matched against Chefornak seniors Stella Abraham and Angilan Wiseman, who both scored double digits. The tight game felt as if it could pivot at any moment, with several turnovers shifting the ball’s possession. However, the Blue Jays were unable to pull ahead. The Shamans won, defending their 2020 championship title with a final score of Chefornak 38, Tuntutuliak 30.

“Amazing!” said Lady Shaman senior Naomi Wassillie about her team’s win.

When asked what their favorite part of the game was, the whole team had the same answer: “Teamwork!”

Although the Lady Shamans also won the LKSD tournament in 2020, they were not able to attend the state 1A tournament because of the pandemic. The district canceled most sports last year, including the district basketball tournament. The pandemic still presents challenges.

“It has been a very tough year for my girls,” Chefornak coach Eva Panruk said. “Hardly any practice, and couldn't even play a league game. We only played in our league tournaments.”

Following the girls' match, the Chefornak Shamans' boys team faced off against the Toksook Bay Islanders. In their last match-up in the 2020 tournament championship, Chefornak beat Toksook Bay in a close game, winning by only 3 points. The Islanders sought redemption.

The game began with an uproar. The Islander crowd cheered and stomped while the lights in the gym flickered. A quick 7-point lead by Toksook Bay forced the Chefornak coach to call a time-out four minutes into the game. The Islanders widened the gap with a 32 point advantage over the Shamans, and led 48-16 by halftime.

The Islanders' use of fast break, across-court passes made it difficult for the Shamans to keep up. Toksook Bay senior Abraham Julius ran the court with easy, undefended layups. Toksook Bay’s offensive strategy included many shots outside of the arch, with senior Brent Lincoln scoring multiple 3-pointers. Another Islander, Colton Angaiak, waited in the paint to retrieve missed baskets for effortless tap-in shots.

By the end of the third quarter, with the score 64-19, there was little hope that the Shamans could catch up. The Shamans only managed to score two more points in the final quarter, both from free throws. The Toksook Bay Islanders became the new LKSD league champions with a final score of 78-21 against the Chefornak Shamans.

“I'm really happy. We're going to state, and we came here for a reason,” Islander senior Brent Lincoln said after competing in his first district tournament.

Both championship teams, the Toksook Bay Islanders and the Chefornak Lady Shamans, received yellow-ribboned medals. The teams will travel to the State Basketball Tournament in Anchorage, which begins March 16, 2022.

Other teams received awards at the tournament. The Kipnuk Falcons and the Lady Quinhagak Seahawks took home plaques for earning the highest GPAs in the league. The Mekoryuk Herders and Chefornak Lady Shamans received the Sportsmanship Awards.

Corrected: March 9, 2022 at 3:29 PM AKST
The name of the tournament has been corrected to the Lower Kuskokwim School District tournament.
Desiree Hagen is temporarily working for KYUK as part of a reporter exchange supported by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism. She works for KBBI in Homer, where she wears many hats. Her passions include stories involving local agriculture, wild habitats, and arts and culture.
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