Chugiak girls net best state hoops tourney finish since 2009
After watching the Chugiak girls basketball team put up its best state tournament performance in his 10 seasons as head coach, Ryan Hales said he was most proud of the little things.
“There’s this culture built into them that we work hard, we pay attention to details and we do it together — and that’s been built into each one of them and it has made them closer,” Hales said Saturday following his team’s 56-49 win over Soldotna in the third-place game of the Class 4A state tourney in Anchorage. “They really rely on each other. It’s pretty neat.”
Chugiak’s third-place finish was the program’s best since the Mustangs won their fourth state championship in 2009 under coach Tracy Adams. Hales took over the following year and has guided the team to five straight state appearances and six overall.
The Mustangs were the No. 7 seed in the tournament after finishing fourth in the Cook Inlet Conference tournament. But Hales said he never wavered in his belief that Chugiak was one of the top teams in the state — something the Mustangs proved by reaching the state semifinal and finishing third.
“We knew what we were about and we just had to prove ourselves and that was a great feeling,” he said.
Early on Saturday it looked like the Mustangs might sleepwalk their way to fifth place in the 8:30 a.m. game on the main floor at the Alaska Airlines Center.
“We didn’t exactly show up to play,” said Hales, whose team trailed by as many as 15 points in the first quarter.
Hales said senior guard Eva Palmer helped key the turnaround after several sloppy turnovers to start the game.
“I said, ‘Hey, you know kiddo this is kind of our last hurrah, enjoy the moment and just play,’” Hales said.
After that it was game on.
“She just relaxed and let the game come to her,” Hales said of Palmer, who finished with 11 points, seven steals and three assists.
Junior guard Chasity Selden-Horn led the Mustangs in scoring for the third straight game, pouring in 19 points to go with five rebounds. Selden-Horn averaged 21.3 points per game and was named to the all-tournament team for Chugiak, which finished fourth the past two seasons. Ari Lewis added 13 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds for the Mustangs, who also got nine points from Caitlin Wachmann and two each from Cheyenne Young and Layla Beam.
Chugiak’s state title hopes came up just short Friday as the Mustangs dropped a 54-44 decision to Bartlett in the semifinals. Selden-Horn, who scored a game-high 29 points as the Mustangs knocked off West Valley 69-66 in the tournament’s opening round.
Selden-Horn said Chugiak was excited to advance at state both because it allows them to keep chasing their season-long dream of a title but also because it means they’ve got one last weekend to spend together.
“It’s just us as a family,” she said. “That’s not something everybody has.”
That family will mostly stay together next season, though the Mustangs are losing some key pieces including seniors Palmer, Young and Aliza Schwartz.
“Those three are big ones for us,” said Hales.
The Mustangs will return seven players from this year’s state tournament team — Selden-Horn, Lewis, Wachmann, Beam, Averie Carlos, Gretchen Larsen and Carol Houser — and Hales said he’s already excited for next season.
“They’ll be hard to replace but we have a good, strong core coming back,” he said.
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274