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Wasilla, Colony girls advance to set up an all Mat-Su 4A state basketball finals matchup

Mar. 23—After coming short in the 4A basketball state finals to perennial powerhouse Mountain City Christian Academy, formerly Anchorage Christian School, in each of the past two years, the Wasilla girls team was fed up.

Earlier this season, the Warriors became the first in-state team to beat the Lions in more than five years, snapping their historic win streak at 133. Then, Wasilla completed a regular-season sweep and spoiled the MCCA senior night. The Warriors won a third matchup in their regional tournament and on Friday night, defeated the Lions for the fourth time this season in a commanding 54-43 victory.

"They've been a thorn in our side for quite a few years since they came up to the 4A division," Wasilla head coach Jeannie Hebert said. "Just to really kind of get that monkey off our back and then of course we had to play them four times this year. It's hard to beat any team but especially a team that is as talented as they are."

Hebert knew that the Lions weren't going to stop fighting or trying to claw their way back into the game after her team built up a sizable lead. She said the key to keeping the advantage would be "to manage their runs" and believed that her team did a "very good job" of executing the game plan.

"We had to do it in the regular season then we had to do it in the Northern Lights tournament and then to do it here at state," Hebert said. "I was pretty nervous before the game because it's hard to beat a team four times."

After losing all three of their matchups to the Lions by an average of 18.6 points last year with two-time Gatorade Player of the Year Sayvia Sellers at the helm, the Warriors flipped the script on them this year by winning three of their four matchups by double digits.

"We've had high respect for Mountain City since last year when they beat us every time we played them," junior Mylee Anderson said. "This season they're still just as good of a powerhouse. I think we just went in with a mentality of never giving up and being tough and they made us work. It's always fun playing them."

Anderson accounted for exactly half of her team's point total with a game-high 27 points and furnished a double-double by leading the team with a game-high 10 rebounds as well.

"I wouldn't have it without my team," Anderson said. "It just kind of happened and I just took my open shots and reminded my teammates to take their open shots too."

Even though star junior forward Layla Hays didn't have the biggest night from a scoring standpoint, the attention that she was able to draw down in the post opened up more opportunities for Anderson and the rest of her teammates on the perimeter.

"Her supporting cast did a good job tonight of supporting her and getting after it because she is still a major factor in the game," Hebert said.

Between Anderson and Hays, Hebert says "you never know what's going to happen" on a given night. The last time they played Mountain City, Hays was the one that had the big game with 34 points.

With the win, the Warriors advance to the state finals for the third year in a row where they will meet up with rival Colony for the fifth time this season. The last time they played, Wasilla beat the Knights in the regional championship game.

"It's going to be an exciting and challenging task," Hebert said. "We beat them last time so they're going to come out and play and I think it's going to come down to the team that executes their strategy and makes the fewest mistakes."

Anderson said she believes that the strengths of their respective teams match up very well. Hebert anticipates the Mat-Su will show out in force on Saturday night for the first ever girls state title bout between the two rival teams, further raising the intensity level.

"I figure one side of the gym is going to be all red and one side of the gym is going to be all green," Hebert said.

Colony pulls away from Thunder Mountain to snap finals appearance drought

It had been a decade since Colony last advanced to the state finals in 2014. But with their 69-35 victory over the Falcons in the 4A semifinals on Friday afternoon, the Knights punched their ticket to Saturday night's title game with authority.

"It feels awesome and it's just a great group of girls," junior Hallie Clark said. "I'm really excited and we'll show up tomorrow ready to do good things."

With the win, Colony improved its overall record to 25-3 and further validated its deserved status as the No. 1 seed in this year's tournament. While the Knights were expected to be among the top contenders in a more wide open field in the post-Sayvia Sellers era, they have taken some by surprise but not themselves.

"We've got a good group and we have no seniors on this team so a lot of these girls have been battling with me since freshman year," Clark said. "We've really been working. We've put a lot of hours in outside of practice so it's fun to see it paying off."

Although their semifinal bout with the Falcons ended in a blowout, it was a tightly contest game in the first half that saw the Knights lead by just two points after the first quarter and only four at halftime. Clark attributed the team's lack of movement as the reason why they weren't able to take control earlier. She credited their uptick in that area as to why they were able to blow the game open in the second half.

"I felt like we were really stagnant that first half," she said. "Just moving and penetrating, attacking the key and being aggressive (made the difference in the second half)."

While Clark was received Play of the Game honors after tying for the team lead in scoring with 19 points, she praised her first-year teammate Tonya Karpow. Karpow tied for the most points on the team and finished with a double-double after leading the team with a game-high 12 rebounds.

"She's awesome and a huge asset to our team," Clark said. "For her size, she is kind of an undersized post but she really knows how to play and battle."

4A Girls Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center

Wednesday

Quarterfinals

Colony 62, North Pole 33

Wasilla 47, Bartlett 22

Thunder Mountain 58, Dimond 44

Mountain City Christian Academy 59, Service 54

Friday

Consolation

Service 56, Bartlett 23

Dimond 56, North Pole 52

Semifinals

Colony 69, Thunder Mountain 35

Wasilla 54, MCCA 43

Saturday

4th/6th

Dimond v. Service at 9 a.m. (Auxiliary gym)

3rd/5th

Thunder Mountain v. MCCA at 9 a.m. (Main court)

Championship

Colony v. Wasilla at 5:30 p.m. (Main court)