The women’s Gold Medal basketball team from Skagway took home the championship last weekend at the 73rd annual Southeast tournament in Juneau. It was Skagway’s first Gold Medal championship since 1973, coming in the first year that a Skagway women’s team has competed in the event sponsored by the Lions Club in Juneau.

Skagway advanced through the bracket undefeated. Starting with a win against Haines on March 18, they defeated Hoonah on March 19. Then two days later, they beat the 2018 women’s champions, Yakutat.

There were 14 lead changes in the final game March 23 before Skagway won 58-49 against  Haines, which came up through the loser’s bracket.

The championship game was the hardest that the team faced, said Skagway player Kaylie Smith. One extra challenge was the addition of a tall player to the Haines squad.

“Height was one of our weaknesses because we don’t have much. We knew (the Haines player) would be a challenge,” Smith said.

Jessie Ellis was honored as Skagway’s most valuable player throughout the tournament, scoring an average of more than 18 points per game.

Smith led the scoring in the final game with 21 points and earned a defensive player of the tournament award.

Most of the team had played together on Skagway’s high school basketball squad and have come back to town after college.

“Seven of us grew up in Skagway and we added Sarah Dudley, who has been living here for years and years. I remember her coming to our state championships games when I was in high school,” Smith said.

The players made the decision to enter the Gold Medal tournament because they missed playing competitively and were able to get enough players to sign up.

Ellis mentioned how much the fans in town meant to the team. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our community. They helped us so much,” Ellis said in a video from the Juneau Empire.

“(The team members) are such wonderful representatives of the community and it’s such a marvelous feat that they were able to accomplish,” Mayor Andrew Cremata said.

Smith made certain to announce that the team plans to come back to defend its championship in 2020.

“We got a taste of Gold Medal and we liked it. I think we all miss the competition and finally playing together was so much fun,’ she said.