An initial sentiment of exhilarating expectancy at the Alaska State Regionals Tournament was met with abrupt disappointment as the ASAA State Basketball Championship Tournament was cancelled March 11, and the Unalaska Raiders basketball teams were sent home prematurely.
Despite the untimely end to their seasons, both teams gallantly completed the regions tournament and arrived home with a few well-deserved wins under their belts.
As they entered the tournament, the Raider Girls held the number-one seed in their bracket. They faced Dillingham in their first game of the tournament, on Thursday, March 12.
"Going into that game, we knew it was going to be a battle," said head coach Riley Spetz. "We ended up winning by seven. And we had a couple kids step up-I'd say everybody did their part."
Hailey Wilson and Kayla Villamor, two seniors on the team, contributed a majority of the points, while sophomore Vy Huynh stepped up in the second half, putting up three three-point shots. The Raiders beat Dillingham 49-42 and went on to play Tikigaq/Point Hope in the championship game.
"It was a good victory since we really hadn’t played all that many games this year due to some of the things we had to endure," added Spetz, reflecting on the devastating loss of senior teammate, Alexis Magalong, last month.
Following the win against Dillingham, the Raiders went on to play the Tikigaq Harpooners. Wilson and Villamor again led in points. However, the Raiders were unable to overcome the setback of 24 turnovers, and lost by three points in a heartbreaking overtime battle.
While the Raiders Girls battled valiantly, the Unalaska Boys basketball team entered the tournament with the possibility of facing a double-header against Dillingham and Tikigaq.
Well ahead of Dillingham in the fourth quarter, head coach Kent Russell rested several players in preparation for their game against Tikigaq. The Raider Boys won their first game at the tournament, beating Dillingham 56-48.
Just five short hours later, they faced Tikigaq-the number-one seed in the Great Alaska Region bracket. Unfortunately—despite their efforts to harness extra rest in the previous game against Dillingham—the Raiders lost their second game of the tournament.
"Our focus was to control the pace, and we did until the fourth quarter, when they retook the lead and we struggled to make shots," said Russell. "The boys battled really hard against Point Hope—who was one of the favorites to win state."
On Friday, March 13, in what ended up being the last game of their season, the Unalaska boys wrapped up the year with a big win against the Bristol Bay Angels.
When reflecting on this past season, the sudden and unforeseen ending did not damper the pride and reverence with which both coaches spoke about their teams.
"With what all has happened in the last month and last year, it has shown the toughness of this group of young men and women," Russell reflected. "To be able even finish the season is commendable and to play as hard as both teams did is a sign of their character, especially for this group of seniors."
Spetz echoed Russell's sentiment of respect, voicing his gratitude for these resilient athletes: "We graduated eight seniors in our program—so Raider basketball is thankful for their years and their time that they spent playing for us, and we're going to miss all of them."