This past March, the Ketchikan Lady Kings basketball team reached the state championship semifinal round, battling the undefeated Bartlett High School Lady Golden Bears — and outscoring their opponents during the second half — in a tough game that ultimately didn’t go Kayhi’s way.
But there is an upside. The March Madness of 2021 provided valuable playoff experience for the 2021-22 edition of the Kayhi Lady Kings, which remains largely intact from the previous season.
“It’s an exciting group because we return everybody from a pretty successful season last year — where our entire top eight is back with us,” Kayhi head coach Kelly Smith said Tuesday during an interview with the Daily News.
That includes Shaelyn Mendoza, the 2020-21 team captain who returns as a senior this season, in addition to fellow seniors Jenae Rhoads, Hayley Gilson, Paige Boehlert and Gabby Mas. Lindsay Byron and Hya Bondoc are varsity players returning as juniors, along with now-sophomore Bree Johnson. Lily Detienne, a junior, is new to the varsity squad this season.
In addition to the nine-player varsity roster, Kayhi has a 14-player JV/C team roster with a sizable contingent of freshmen.
“It’s exciting because we’ve also got …. nine freshman, that are working in our younger group and building up,” Smith said. “So we’ve got a good mix of experience in the varsity level, and then, the JV level, we have a whole bunch of freshmen working and getting better. It’s in a good spot right now.”
The JV/C roster, coached by Mark Sivertsen and assistant coach Bayley Lindgren, includes juniors Abbie Davies and Rosie Daniels; sophomores Dakota Burns, Sophie Agoney, Dakota Wyzykowski and Isabella Whisenant; and freshmen Shyla Abajian, Molly Sivertsen, Carol Frey, Lily Goodwin, Aspen Bauer, Azriah McGarrigan, Tasha Llanos and Trisha Capps.
The first test of the new season is this week as the Lady Kings travel to Wasilla for the Doc Larson Roundball Classic tournament.
Kayhi will open the three-day event with a matchup against Mt. Edgecumbe High School at 1 p.m. Thursday. Then, at 1 p.m. Friday, the Lady Kings will face a familiar foe — Bartlett.
“We’re going to have our hands full, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Smith, noting that Bartlett had graduated Amelia Uhila, who is playing Division I college ball with Portland State, but still has a point guard who has signed for a Division I scholarship and another Division I caliber player who transfered to Bartlett this year.
Following the Friday matchup with Bartlett, the Lady Kings are scheduled to play Wasilla High School at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday.
Smith said Wasilla is always relevant in the state, with a good coaching staff and a current post player who’s capable of Division I/Division II level basketball.
And although the season is just starting and there’s not much information about how other teams are shaping up, Smith said he thinks Kayhi will “match up fine” this weekend.
“We do some different things,” Smith said. “ ... What bothered Bartlett last year was just how hard we played, from start to finish. Whether or not we're making shots, we're pressing all over the floor, and not a lot of teams do that. So we kind of force teams to play our style, and if that works, I like our chances.”
Looking farther ahead, Smith said Kayhi senior Hayley Gilson, who’s scheduled to wrestle in the state championship tournament this weekend in Anchorage, is set to be back practicing with the varsity basketball squad early next week.
“We're excited to have her back,” he said. “We haven't had her in the gym much due to wrestling, so she'll wrestle this weekend and then she'll be right back at practice with us Monday.
“This is an exciting group to come out and support and watch,” Smith continued. “They’re good kids and they play hard. Janae (Rhoads) and Shaelyn (Mendoza) have been getting varsity minutes their entire high school career. They're seniors this year. Once Hayley gets back with us, we'll have five seniors on the roster. It's an exciting, fun team that is ready to get out and play hard and represent Ketchikan.”