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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
When the Ketchikan High School Lady Kings enter the gym at Dimond High School on Wednesday, their opponent might not recognize them.
Sure, the Lady Kings will have the same colored uniforms as they did the last time the Soldotna High School Lady Stars watched Kayhi play — maroon and white.
And except for the addition of Madison Rose and subtraction of Payton Simmons, who suffered a torn ACL in January, it’s the same roster that the Lady Stars saw during the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic tournament.
The two teams didn’t play each other during the Clarke Cochrane tournament, but they watched each other’s games.
“We know where we were at the last time that they were here,” Kayhi coach Kelly Smith said. “We didn’t get to play them, but they watched us play. And I guarantee they weren’t overly impressed.”
Kayhi was on the tail end of a 2-4 stretch to open the season in late December 2018. The Lady Kings won third place in the Clarke Cochrane tournament, but were still struggling to find their groove.
Soldotna was starting its season 6-0. The Lady Stars won the Clarke Cochrane tournament, and have since continued to do nothing except win.
Soldotna is 15-0 and ranked as one of the top 5 4A programs in the state.
But the Lady Kings have turned the page, and started a new chapter in their season. Since the Clarke Cochrane tournament, Kayhi has gone 5-3. And after starting the season averaging 35.2 points per game during that six-game stretch, the Lady Kings have tacked on 10 more points per game, now averaging 45.6 tallies.
There is something to be said about a team’s new-found confidence. And when the ball tips off between Soldotna and Kayhi at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday in the first round of the Lady Lynx Prep Shootout tournament, it’s anybody’s game.
“We know we’re a different group,” Smith said. “(It’ll be) a very, very tough game. But it’s a good measuring stick to see (where we’re at). If we can go up and compete with them, and play as hard as we can — win or lose — if we can feel good about that, that shows the improvement we’ve made.”
The Lady Stars have outscored their opponents by 30 points this season. Soldotna averages 61 points per game, and has held its opponents to 31.6 points per game.
The Lady Stars defeated Craig (4-11), Thunder Mountain (8-11) and Lathrop (11-4) high schools at Kayhi during the Clarke Cochrane tournament.
But since the turn of the 2019 portion of Kayhi’s season began it has had a scoring spree from several contributors.
The Lady Kings’ Ashley Huffine and Lianne Guevarra have scored double digits in six of the last eight contests. Guevarra has hit 3-pointers in all eight of those games, and Huffine has sunk threes in five of those eight.
Kayhi’s Nadire Zhuta also has hit 3-pointers in six of the last eight games. And Rose has had back-to-back games scoring double figures and hitting threes.
Rose returned to the lineup on Jan. 24 after suffering a concussion before the season began.
“It’s big (having her back) for numerous reasons, on the basketball standpoint,” Smith said. “It’s big because it takes some pressure off Ashley and Lianne with the ball. And they’ve got to handle the ball so much. It’s big for Shaelynn (Mendoza) because it takes a lot of pressure off of a freshman who doesn’t have to start, and handle a lot more than she might be ready for.
“And it’s just big for the team concept because she’s been on varsity for three years, and understands what we’re doing,” he continued. “So it’s big for a lot of reasons. But most importantly, it’s big for her because she gets to play basketball with her friends.”
Kayhi most recently split a pair of games against Mt. Edgecumbe High School over the weekend. After the Lady Kings won 57-42 on Friday, Kayhi lost 46-35 on Friday. But Smith wasn’t worried about any layover into this week’s tournament.
“They were frustrated (after Saturday’s loss) — more mad at themselves,” Smith said. “But credit to our kids. There wasn’t a meltdown or anything like that. It was one of those things where it was like, ‘My bad. We’ll move on.’ Nothing to get too fired up about.”
The Lady Lynx double-elimination tournament will have 16 teams, including Kayhi and Soldotna. Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools also will be participating.
“We can watch what some other teams do against Juneau and Thunder Mountain, and what kind of success they have and the different stuff they do,” Smith said. “We’ll try to pick up a few things here or there.”
In addition to the two Southeast rivals, other schools Kayhi has faced that are participating in the Lady Lynx tournament are Lathrop, West Valley, Wasilla and West Anchorage high schools.
“We’ll just go out and give ourselves a chance, and enjoy doing it,” Smith said. “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll try again the next day.”