Lady Braves Season Preview

posted Jan 20, 2012, 9:39 AM by Mark Nance
Courtesy Daily Sitka Sentinel

After five games of the 2011-12 high school basketball season, the Mt. Edgecumbe Lady Braves are 3-2 overall. The Lady Braves went 2-1 at the Kenai River Challenge Dec. 15-17, rebounding from a 61-32 loss to Soldnota in the opening round to beat Nikiski and host Kenai Central, a 4A school.

MEHS coach Carl Blackhurst said his team played much better in the second and third games of the tournament, putting together a solid team effort Dec. 17 to knock off Kenai 42-35.

"It was good to end on a high note," Blackhurst said. "We played our best game the third night."  In the win over Kenai,  Brandi Hale, a senior from Hooper Bay, had 13 points for Edgecumbe, while Mariah Martin, a Hoonah junior, added 10. Taryn White, a freshman from Hoonah, chipped in 6. In Edgecumbe's 52-36 win over Nikiski, Brenna Johanson, a Hoonah senior, scored 14 for MEHS, Scartlett Beaver, a sophomore from Kotzebue, had 13 and Martin scored 7.

The Lady Braves opened the season by splitting two conference games in Craig. Following the games at Kenai, the Lady Braves left for the holiday break. They won't play again until Jan. 13-14, when they're set to visit Petersburg. Blackhurst is in his sixth season coaching the Lady Braves. He led MEHS to back-to-back Region V titles in 2008 and 2009, piling up a 25-game conference winning streak, then captured the school’s first state title in 2010 with an upset victory over Anchorage Christian School. It was an improbable win for MEHS, coming after Blackhurst lost five key players from a team that fell to ACS in the 2009 state finals. But graduation finally caught up with the Lady Braves last season. After losing Nicole Pingayak, Lainey Beaver and Christina Fields, the three players who were on the all-tournament team at state in 2010, the Lady Braves struggled to a 3-17 record last season, including a 2-10 mark in the conference. The young team had trouble scoring late in games and was quickly eliminated from the Region V tournament, ending a streak state tournament appearances that dated back at least 15 years.

This year's team is talented, if a bit inexperienced. Hale is the the Lady Braves’ captain. And Johanson, a star volleyball player who was a key part of the rotation last year, is the team’s only other senior. They've been joined in the starting lineup by Scarlett Beaver, Taryn White and Mariah Martin this season. Beaver is the younger sister of Lainey. Scarlett was Edgecumbe’s leading scorer most nights last season. Blackhurst has six other varsity players: Danielle Fields, Melissa Fisher, Renatta Olson, Frieda Kaleak, Venita Demoski and Francine Tikiun.

Fields is expected to be a key addition for MEHS, though she won’t play until January. Fields, a sophomore, is the younger sister of Christina, who was a junior in 2010 and stayed home to help Kotzebue reach the state championship game last season. Danielle started alongside her sister as the Huskies beat Sitka in the 2011 state semifinals before falling to the Barrow Lady Whalers. Fields is battling a nagging hip injury she suffered at a basketball camp last summer.

The Lady Braves lost the first game of the season 61-36 to Craig, but came back the next night and beat the Lady Panthers 47-40. Blackhurst wasn't happy with how the first game went, but he liked that team bounced back. And the Lady Braves showed similar resolve in bouncing back after the loss to Soldotna.


Blackhurst said he expects the 3A Southeast girls conference to be tough this year. Sitka High is off to a fast start, Haines is expected to be tough and there might not be any easy games against Wrangell, Petersburg and Metlakatla. Blackhurst didn't like missing the state tournament last year and he's eager to make the trip north in 2012.

"Every season you start with the goal of wanting to win regions and make it to state. That’s these girls’ goal," Blackhurst said. "At the same time, it’s going to be a tough region.”