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Controlled and confident, Fort Yukon girls win their first-ever 1A state basketball title

Mar. 16—Fort Yukon girls basketball head coach Joshua Cadzow had a couple of keywords for his team before the Alaska 1A girls basketball championship: control and confidence.

The young Eagles team showed both traits on Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center, topping Newhalen 62-51 to earn the school's first girls basketball title.

"They just came out with poise, and they just came out with just total confidence," he said. "We've been winning tournaments all year, but we were the underdogs."

Playing against the Malemutes — a perennial state title contender with two state titles in the last four seasons — Fort Yukon came out and built a double-digit lead in the first quarter.

"Coach told us to play at our level and pass the ball," said Kylee Carroll, who had 19 points for Fort Yukon.

Although Newhalen chipped away at the lead, Fort Yukon still led 29-22 at halftime as Nellie Ward scored 10 points to lead the way. The Eagles committed 12 turnovers, which Newhalen converted into fast break points. But they made up for the turnovers with a 17-8 rebounding advantage.

Trailing 33-22 early in the third quarter, Newhalen used some of its signature pressure defense to go on an 11-0 run over a span of less than two minutes to tie the game at 33-33 with 4:25 remaining in the third.

But the Eagles were unshaken and regained the lead heading into the fourth quarter. Although the game was close, they continued to maintain their lead.

"We came up with a game plan and we stuck to it," Cadzow said. "We made a few adjustments on the way but everything seemed to work out. (Saturday) at the end of the Shaktoolik game, they pressed us and rushed us and almost came back. Today, I saw a whole different team. Controlled."

While Newhalen was able to force a number of turnovers, the Eagles also were able to routinely beat the pressure for long passes and transition baskets.

"That I was one of the adjustments where we just thought, 'Hey, one of our girls is quicker. Let's get her down,'" Cadzow said.

The Eagles have two seniors on their roster but no juniors. It was a group of four sophomores who accounted for much of the scoring. Nellie Ward, Carroll, Jane Ward and Jewel Mahler combined for 44 of the team's 62 points.

"We've all been playing together since we were eighth graders," Carroll said.

Senior Twila Strom had a dozen points in her final game with the Eagles.

The game was still just a one-point game a couple minutes into the fourth quarter, but Cadzow said that was when he asked his team to dial up the pressure.

"Four minutes left to the fourth, I said, 'Hey, this is it. Go finish it,'" he said. "I said, 'You put the pressure on them now. Let's flip it.' So we did that and it worked perfectly."

Newhalen, which won the title in 2021 and 2022, was led by Analeigh Wassillie's 16 points. Ida Lester added 12 for the Malemutes.

The Eagles reached the finals in 2010, falling to Port Lions in the championship. Cadzow said the community has been following the team all season and was thrilled with the win.

"It's going to be wild when we get home," he said.

ASAA 1A State Championship Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center

Girls

Wednesday

Klawock 36, Brevig Mission 28

Newhalen 69, St. Mary's 28

Napaaqtugmiut 35, Lumen Christi 26

Bristol Bay 54, Skagway 46

Shaktoolik 78, Akiak 28

Nunamiut 39, Birchwood Christian 25

Buckland 58, Scammon Bay 49

Fort Yukon 78, Napaskiak 38

Thursday

Consolations

Scammon Bay 48, Brevig Mission 43

St. Mary's 32, Birchwood Christian 27

Napaskiak 49, Lumen Christi 44

Skagway 56, Akiak 9

Quarterfinals

Klawock 48, Buckland Bay 45

Newhalen 83, Nunamiut 46

Fort Yukon 49, Napaaqtugmiut 44

Shaktoolik 61, Bristol Bay 42

Friday

Consolations

Scammon Bay 76, St. Mary's 49

Buckland 70, Nunamiut 42

Bristol Bay 38, Napaaqtugmiut 37

Skagway 42, Napaskiak 38

Semifinals

Newhalen 46, Klawock 38

Fort Yukon 48, Shaktoolik 45

Saturday

Consolation

Scammon Bay 37, Skagway 26

4th/6th

Buckland 64, Bristol Bay 42

3rd/5th

Shaktoolik 47, Klawock 33

Championship

Fort Yukon 62, Newhalen 51