The first order of business for the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves at the Southeast tournament will be waiting.
The Braves, looking for their first Region V title since 2005, went undefeated in conference play this year and earned a first-round bye.
After arriving in Juneau today (March 1), they’ll have to sit through 17 games before they see their first action Thursday at 8:30 p.m. By that time, a few teams will be eliminated from the tournament and others will have two wins under their belts.
MEHS coach Archie Young acknowledged that it could be a challenge keeping his players focused with a tournament raging around them at Juneau-Douglas High School, but said he wouldn’t trade places with any team around the region.
“We’re definitely in the best position,” Young said at the close of a recent practice. “We’ve earned the right to be here and now we have to go prove it again.”
The Braves enter the tournament as the favorites after dispatching the six other teams from around Southeast with relative ease. They got pushed by Sitka High Feb. 22 and beat Petersburg 59-58 in a January overtime win on the road, but otherwise won by an average of 32 points against 3A Southeast foes. They were 18-3 overall in the regular season, with wins over Juneau-Douglas and Ketchikan, and have not lost to a 3A school.
In 3A conference games, the Braves averaged 72 points a night, using their athleticism and speed to power past teams in transition. They play pressure defense up and down the floor, and create turnovers that lead to easy baskets. The Braves were held to 60 points or less just three times, twice against Sitka and once in the 59-58 win over Petersburg.
But senior captain Sean Melovidov said the Braves have a lot of work to do in 2011. He said the Braves were happy to finish the regular season 12-0, but that they’re focused on postseason success, and looking to play their best basketball this month.
“As coach always says, never satisfied,” Melovidov said. “The whole group, our success is based on knowing we can do better. We’re focused on Thursday’s game, that’s it.”
Melovidov said Edgecumbe knows better than some other teams that anything can happen at the Region V tournament. Two years in a row now, the Braves have been a surprise in the Southeast postseason.
Last season, the Braves entered the Region V tournament as the three seed, but they had compiled a 7-5 record with center Daniel Peters leading the team in scoring and rebounding. When Peters went down in the Braves’ final conference game, not too many observers would have listed MEHS as a team that could challenge undefeated Haines in the Region V tournament.
But they did just that, debuting the fast-paced style they employed this season.
“Everybody goes into regionals 0-0,” said Co-captain Zach Ivanoff, who, like Melovidov, is a four-year senior at the Japonski Island School. “Anything can happen.”
Ivanoff, from Unalakleet, had a sister who graduated from Edgecumbe, while Melovidov, from St. Paul, is the youngest of five siblings who attended the state-run boarding school.
Both played key roles in Edgecumbe’s run to the state tournament last season, and both said they had told their teammates the raucous atmosphere at B.J. McGillis Gymnasium during the recent games with Sitka High was what they should expect this week in Juneau.
“That was what Southeast basketball is all about,” Ivanoff said.
Ivanoff and Melovidov are joined in Mt. Edgecumbe’s starting lineup by three players who are new to the school this year: Travante Williams (Anchorage), Savion Waters (Anchorage) and Dominque Hall (Nome).
Williams and Waters have led the team in scoring most nights, and have added to the speed and athleticism on the Edgecumbe team. But the Braves are dangerous offensively in part because they are so unselfish. Ivanoff, in many ways, embodies Edgecumbe’s selfless play, doing whatever it is the Braves need on a given night.
“I just play the game,” Ivanoff said. “If I’m not scoring, I know I have to do something else. If Travante or Savion gets shut down, me and Sean know we have to step up.”
Melovidov, who would be the number one scoring option on most other Southeast teams, called Ivanoff a “fast, hard-working kid,” and noted what a good rebounder he is.
really sees the openings,” Melovidov said.
The question at this time last year was whether anyone in the 3A division had the chops to push Haines. The answer, it turned out, was Mt. Edgecumbe, and the Braves find themselves on the other side of that same question this season.The mostly likely candidate is 10-2 Sitka. The Wolves were in both games against the Braves and trailed by 4 late in the Feb. 22 contest. But the Braves offensive attack, and defensive pressure, is relentless, and MEHS closed out the game with a 7-1 run in crunch time. The Wolves will head to JDHS looking for a third shot at their cross-town rivals. That game could come Friday evening, with a Region V title on the line.