The Sitka and Barrow girls met for the championship of the Alaska 3A state tournament last year. They met again Friday in the third-place game of the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic. 
Barrow, which edged Sitka 51-45 to claim last year’s state title, once again came out on top to earn a 48-45 win in a game that was tight throughout.
“We have a history with Sitka,” Barrow coach Derek Ahgeak said. “Every game we have played with them, they’ve been close games. We are familiar with what they run. It’s a good win for us. It feels great.”
Barrow has four state titles, winning championships in 2007, 2013, 2016 and 2022. Sitka won the state championship in 2015 and has four runner-up finishes in the nine years.
Coming off an intense overtime loss against Ketchikan in the semifinals, Sitka had difficulty staying with a Barrow squad that had been able to rest its starters more in a 67-39 semifinal loss to Philomath.
“They just came off an overtime loss, and we took advantage of that,” Ahgeak said.
The Wolves kept falling behind, but then would quickly catch up, mostly by hitting 3-point shots. Barrow led 27-20 early in the third quarter, and then Adrianna Denkinger and Marina Onley-Miller swished consecutive 3-pointers for Sitka to cut the lead to 27-26. Onley-Miller drained another 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter to again cut the deficit to a point, and Denkinger hit a late 3 to keep Sitka’s hopes alive before Barrow held on for the win.
“Adrianna and Marina just kept tossing them up,” Sitka coach Mindy Bartolaba said. “It was working in our favor. They found their stride, and they kept us in there.”
Sitka trailed for most of the game, but an inside basket by Onley-Miller gave the Lady Wolves a 29-28 advantage late in the third quarter. 
Barrow’s small and speedy guard, Kiara Burnell hit a layup in the closing seconds of the quarter to regain a one-point advantage for the Whalers. Barrow’s Kimberly Wolgemuth drained a 3-pointer to start the fourth and the Whalers never trailed in the final quarter, but Sitka kept battling back to keep the game close.
The Whalers went up 46-40 on an outside shot by Wolgemuth with two minutes to play, but Sitka’s Aleena Tucker scored inside to cut the lead to 46-42. The Wolves had a chance to get closer, but missed an opportunity at the free throw line when Onley-Miller missed the first shot on a two-shot foul and then had her second free throw wiped off the boards because of a teammate’s lane violation.
Another length of the court drive for a layup by Burnell regained a 48-42 lead for the Whalers with 47 seconds to play.
Denkinger drained a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to cut the lead to 48-45 and the Wolves got a turnover, but Barrow smartly fouled to send the Wolves to the free-throw line instead of having an opportunity to set up for a game-tying 3-pointer.
Sitka missed the front end of the 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity, and Barrow got the rebound. The Whalers missed a free throw with 2.8 seconds left, but Sitka was unable to get off a desperation heave as time expired.
The Whalers entered Friday’s game with a 0-2 record. Barrow opened the year with a 62-29 loss to Grace Christian. The Whalers got a first-round bye at the Clarke Cochrane before falling 66-39 to Philomath in the semifinals.
“I had to replace eight players from last year,” Ahgeak said. “It had taken us some time to figure things out. We are taking steps in the right direction. This is a big win for us; it reinforces our coaching methods. We improved on the stuff we needed to work on. It’s a big step for us.”
Barrow was led by 18 points from Burnell. She got off to a quick start with nine points in the first quarter, then helped the Whalers put the game away with six points and a couple of steals in the fourth quarter.
“She creates matchup problems with her speed,” Ahgeak said. “She can finish left or right, and she can hit from the outside. She is a player to watch, and we’ll take advantage of that.”
Wolgemuth added 14 points for Barrow, scoring 10 in the fourth quarter, including hitting a pair of 3-point baskets. Zadah Unatoa scored 10 points.
“This is a great tournament,” Ahgeak said. “We were so happy that we were invited and happy that we made it. The competition here was tough. It was especially good to see our kids take those steps forward on defense, offense and ball handling.”
Like Barrow, Sitka lost a handful of its top players from last year’s team, but the Wolves always have high expectations.
Ava Brady led the Wolves with 16 points, scoring 10 in the second quarter. Denkinger added 11 points; Onley-Miller scored eight, and Tucker finished with seven.
“It showed us things that we can work on when we go back home,” Bartolaba said. “It also showed us things that we are doing well. You can always learn from a loss.”
Sitka was originally scheduled to play in a tournament in Kendrick, Idaho, but had that trip canceled late because of flight issues. They were able to add the Clarke Cochrane on Tuesday.
“We were supposed to go down to Kendrick and play three games down there, but that trip got canceled due to airplanes not functioning,” Bartolaba said. “At the last minute, our AD was able to schedule us in here. It was much better than sitting at home, getting a chance to go play.”
Sitka made it a quick trip, flying in Wednesday before their first game and then flying back to Sitka immediately after Friday’s contest.
“It was kind of nice to be able to do that,” Bartolaba said. “Sleeping in classrooms is OK for a little bit, but it is nice to get home when you can.”
Metlakatla 42, Nome 16
Metlakatla bounced back from a tough-opening round loss to Philomath to post a pair of easy wins in the consolation bracket, including a 42-16 victory over Nome-Beltz in the fourth-place game on Friday.
After falling 35-31 to Philomath in their first game, Metlakatla beat the Kayhi junior varsity 75-24 before finishing with the big win over Nome. Afterwards, they still had that rugged loss to Philomath on their minds.
“That still hurts,” Metlakatla coach Julian Russell said. “And then watching last night as Philomath beat (Barrow) the way they did was tough, because we were so close. But we came back, and we proved who we are. We fixed some things, and we played really, really well.”
After having all 12 players score in its win over the Kayhi JV, the Miss Chiefs again were able to play their bench significant minutes against Nome after taking a big early lead. 
“Yesterday, I was really proud of them. When you have a crushing defeat like that, sometimes psychologically it is hard to bounce back,” Russell said. “But they played well yesterday and they were pretty excited for this one today. It was an opportunity to at least get fourth place and go 2-1. I think it bodes well for us, how we played."
Nome scored the opening points of Friday’s game on a basket by Asa Hukill a minute into the contest, but the Nanooks didn’t score again until the second quarter as Metlakatla raced out to a 15-2 lead.
Ryley Booth hit a 3-pointer for the Miss Chiefs' first basket of the game, then scored a couple of transition baskets when her teammates found her well behind the Nome defense. She scored the first seven points of the game for Metlakatla and finished with 10 points.
“When she starts out hitting from the perimeter, it really opens things up for us, because they have to come out and guard,” Russell said. “That opens up our middle to drive.”
And Bree Chavez was able to take advantage of those openings, driving into the lane to create shots for herself and teammates. Chavez is also a spark plug in the Miss Chiefs defense and helped create many of the Nanooks turnovers.
“She is our better defender and she might even be the highest jumper on our team, as small as she is, but yeah she gets out real fast,” Russell said. “In the first game, we were so amped up that we overshot her a couple times. We probably missed eight points just from that.”
Chavez drained a 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer to give Metlakatla a 27-7 lead going into the break. The Miss Chiefs led 34-12 after three quarters and used much of the second half to get playing time to some of their bench players and to work on new plays.
“At the end of this game, in the fourth, we were running a new offense that I added,” Russell said. “The first three times we ran it perfect; we got exactly what we wanted.”
Metlakatla plays at Craig on Friday and Saturday. Wrangell won the Southeast last year, beating Metlakatla 26-21 in the championship game. The Miss Chiefs beat Haines in the second-place game. At the state tournament, Wrangell finished second and Metlakatla ended up third. Point Hope’s Tikigaq high school beat Metlakatla in the semifinals and topped Wrangell in the finals.
“Our conference games start next week. I think we are ready. I’m feeling pretty confident,” Russell said. “I don’t really know what to expect from Craig. Wrangell lost a lot, but they have got such a good coach that I know they’ll be competitive. Haines should be interesting. They just fly all over the court. They have so much energy. They almost went to state last year, and they only lost one person.”
New Stuyahok 34, Kayhi JV 30
Deonya Apokedak scored 14 points to lead New Stuyahok to a 34-30 win over the Ketchikan junior varsity in the seventh-place game of the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic on Friday.
The Lady Eagles used a 7-0 run early in the fourth quarter to turn a 22-19 deficit into a 26-22 lead and then managed to hang onto the advantage the rest of the game to earn their first victory in Ketchikan.
Alyssa Walcott hit a 3-pointer to start the decisive run and Keoni Andrew and Apokedak followed with baskets to give the Lady Eagles the lead.
New Stuyahok pushed the advantage to 32-27 before Ketchikan’s Lauren Tucker sank a 3-pointer with 2:21 to play that cut the lead to 32-30. The Lady Kings wouldn’t score the rest of the game, however as New Stuyahok held on for the win.
Apokedak scored six of her 14 points in the fourth quarter for the Lady Eagles. Andrew added six points for the winners.
Tucker paced Ketchikan with a 12-point effort. Aspen Bauer added eight points.