The Chugiak girls basketball team began its season by losing three straight games in lopsided fashion, closing out 2010 with a 25-point thrashing by North Pole. But the arrival of 2011 brought about big changes in Chugiak country, where the Mustangs were in full gallop after a 51-46 win over West gave them a 2-1 start to the Cook Inlet Conference season.
Chugiak guard Mollie Matthis goes up for two of her eight points during Chugiak's 51-46 Cook Inlet Conference win over West on Jan. 12 in Anchorage. The win helped the Mustangs improve to 2-1 in the CIC.
STAR PHOTO by Matt Tunseth
"We are miles ahead of where we were at the beginning of the season," coach Ryan Hales said after watching his team fight back from seven points down against the Eagles.
Jessica Tramp and Kelsey Heller led all scorers with 13 points for the Mustangs, who went 14-for-21 from the free throw line. Tramp was huge from the line down the stretch, hitting five-of-six tries from the stripe before fouling out with 26 seconds to play.
"I think free throws were a big part of it tonight," Hales said.
West also got to the line 21 times, but made just 10 of its attempts.
Mollie Matthis added eight points for Chugiak, Alistie Aguilar had seven, Tracie Haken netted five, Erin Scotland had three and Jessi McMullen scored two. McMullen, a junior captain, was limited after leaving the game in the second quarter with a foot injury.
After a back-and-forth opening quarter, West took a 22-15 lead into the locker room after holding the Mustangs to just six second-quarter points.
"It was like there was a lid over the hoop in the first half," Hales said.
Chugiak woke up in the third quarter with a balanced team attack. Six different Mustangs scored in the third, which ended with the Mustangs in front 34-33 after Tramp's score down low just before the buzzer.
Aguilar had the hot hand in the quarter with six points, and Matthis and Heller each nailed three-pointers as the Mustangs seized momentum.
Chugiak's strong run of play continued as the Mustangs pushed their lead to 40-33 with just over four minutes to play. But the Eagles managed to make things interesting down the stretch, using a full-court press to create turnovers and scoring chances.
"I kind of think we reverted back to some of our weaknesses, one of which is (handling) ball pressure," Hales said.
Chugiak has just one senior, and Hales pointed to his team's 32 turnovers as evidence that the inexperienced squad still has plenty of learning left to do.
"We have some bad habits we're still trying to break," he said.
West managed to get as close as 45-42, but the Eagles hit just one of their final six shots and Chugiak went six-of-10 from the free throw line down the stretch to seal the deal.
Making the win more impressive was the fact that Chugiak held on despite losing McMullen, one of the team's vocal leaders.
"She's a big part of our offense, and defensively she's a good captain to have on the floor because she communicates so well," Hales said.
The first-year Chugiak coach said he was impressed with his team's ability to fight back from adversity.
"We're coming a long ways, and this was another confidence booster that we needed," he said.
Wolves fall to Service, Southeast squads
Eagle River's developing squad got positive performances amidst negative results as Service and Thunder Mountain combined to add three more defeats to the Wolves' winless ledger.
Two of the team's youngest players were among the scoring leaders, with freshman Sam Coy leading the Wolves in two of their three games and sophomore Dana Panfil netting six of the team's 26 points in Eagle River's 18-point loss to Thunder Mountain.
Service opened Eagle River's tough week with a 46-17 win at Service on Jan. 11. Coy led the Wolves with six points in the loss, which dropped the Wolves' conference record to 0-3.
Eagle River then proved to be a welcome weekend guest for Thunder Mountain, which picked up its first home victory with a 44-26 win over the Wolves on Jan. 14, then added a second with a 53-27 win the following night.
Thunder Mountain (5-5) opened Friday night's game on a 10-0 run before Eagle River responded, finishing the first half on a 16-12 run. But the second-year Juneau school held the Wolves to just 10 points in the second half to put the game out of reach.
Senior captain Danielle Trubiano led Eagle River with nine points in the game.
In Saturday's finale, Coy again led the way for Eagle River with nine points, but Thunder Mountain got scoring from nine different players to key the victory.
The losses dropped Eagle River to 0-9 on the season.
The Juneau Empire's Matthew Tynan contributed to this report. Contact Matt Tunseth at email@example.com or 694-2727, Ext. 215.