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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
The competitive spirit can be contagious. And just like an inverse domino effect, when one person picks up the intensity, the next person does the same thing — then the next person — and the next. Their inner intensity is let loose.
And before a collective group of teammates know it, the competitive bar within the team rises to another level.
It had been several years since Ketchikan High School girls basketball coach Kelly Smith had seen that happen at one of his practices.
With six underclassmen and six upperclassmen on roster this season, Smith knew his Lady Kings (2-3) had that fire within them — but he hadn’t seen it yet.
“You have freshmen and sophomores that aren’t going to do it because they’re freshmen and sophomores,” he said. “And then you have older girls where it’s not their personality to be loud and get in your face.”
But then Monday happened — a new week, a new year — and a new attitude.
“We probably had the best practice that we’ve had in a few years (on Monday),” Smith said. “It got competitive; it got feisty; it got intense. This group has had a real hard time with intensity, going at each other. And we’ve seen it carry over in some games — when things don’t go well for us in games, we’ve had a real hard time changing our fate. We just kind of stay in that lull we’re in, and nothing gets better.
“So I was real excited after Monday’s practice,” he continued.
The veteran head coach was so excited, in fact, that he let everyone know just how pumped he was.
“I was like a little kid in a candy store,” he said. “I was lit up. And everybody I saw or talked to, I was like, ‘We just had the best practice we’ve had in a couple years.’
“It was nice because it’s nothing that I’ve changed,” Smith continued. “It was them finally clicking. We were still doing (everything). It was just something finally clicking with them.”
The Lady Kings will hope to carry Monday’s momentum into this weekend when they host Mt. Edgecumbe High School (2-2). Tipoff on Friday and Saturday at Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.
“We know what our needs are; we’ve got to score the basketball,” Smith said. “We’re having a heck of a time scoring, and we’ve put a lot of effort in trying to score faster, and get up the floor faster. And create some easy opportunities.”
Although the Lady Braves enter Ketchikan with a .500 record, they are averaging 52 points per game. Kayhi’s has yet to crack the 50-point plateau. Its highest total — 44 points — came in a 79-44 final against Wasilla in its season opener.
But this is already a different team than the Lady Kings of a month ago.
After dropping their first three games, Kayhi won third place at the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic, defeating both Metlakatla and Thunder Mountain high schools.
The Lady Kings hung on to a 37-31 victory over the Miss Chiefs, and they beat the Lady Falcons 43-33 to claim bronze.
Kayhi’s only hiccup in the tournament came in the form of a 58-21 loss against Lathrop High School.
“The Clarke Cochrane (tournament) was a rollercoaster ride,” Smith said. “We played decent the first half against Met, and then terrible the second half. We had an absolute meltdown against Lathrop. And then (we had) a pretty solid performance against Thunder Mountain. It’s there; we just have to figure out a way to get it out every time.”
Monday might be that turning point.
“We’ve talked about how you’re responsible for how you feel every day, and how you come in,” Smith said. “And what we (the team) get out of it. We’ve seen a lot of productive things.”
Mt. Edgecumbe dropped its last game against Thunder Mountain — a 57-41 loss on Dec. 20. But five varsity players were away on winter break. As a boarding school, Mt. Edgecumbe receives a month off from the classroom. But Smith knows everyone on its roster has talent.
“Usually they have 150 kids go out for basketball,” he said. “They get a lot to choose from. Usually they’ve got really good size. Usually they’ve got a lot of talent — just gym rats. They don’t go home at night; they stay at the school. So their free time is in the gym. So I’m expecting them to come down here and be ready to go.”
The Lady Braves’ two wins this season are against Grace Christian and South Anchorage high schools. They scored 58 points in both victories.
“They can obviously score the ball,” Smith said. “We’re going to have to defend, and we’re going to have to rebound.”
And the Lady Kings’ intensity will have to keep burning.
“We’ve had some ups and downs, but I think we ended the Clarke (tournament) on an up (swing),” Smith said. “Knock on wood, we’ve got to stay healthy and keep progressing.”
Kayhi’s Madison Rose has turned the corner, and is slowly taking steps to join the Lady Kings.
The 5’3” fireball started every game as a sophomore last season. But she suffered a concussion and has been unable to play basketball this year.
“She’s cleared to start (practicing),” Smith said on Wednesday. “She’s in Day 3 of concussion protocol. So as long as she makes it through without any setbacks — (and then) we can start counting her practices. She won’t be able to play this week (against Mt. Edgecumbe) or next week. But she’ll be able to play the week after.”
There is a seven-day concussion protocol that high school athletics follow. On top of that, ASAA requires 10 practices before a player is allowed to play in a game.
In addition to the games against the Lady Braves, Rose also will miss games on Jan. 18 and 19 against Juneau-Douglas High School. But barring any setbacks, she will be available to play against Thunder Mountain on Jan. 25 and 26.
“She’s one of our key returners from last year,” Smith said of his junior guard. “She’s one of those kids that always played so hard. She started every game last year. She was our leading scorer. She’s 5’3” and every game she was our leading rebounder. She’s tough.”