BY JEFF BRADY

The Skagway High girls’ basketball team earned its first victories in two years with a pair of romps over Gustavus this past weekend, while the boys’ team battled the Foxes in two close games but came up short.

It has been a busy month for both teams, starting with tough home league contests against Hoonah and Kake and rolling right into the Don Hather Tourney (see results adjacent).

During this stretch, both teams showed the kind of improved play that will make them competitive this season. Those goose eggs in the win column have been erased and are past history.

The flashpoint for the girls came in the second game of the Kake series, against one of the best teams in the league. After a shaky first quarter, Skagway overcame an eight-point deficit to take the lead at halftime. The Panthers led by as many as five while Kake’s best player rode the bench with four fouls, but when she returned she was hard to stop, and the T-birds turned the game in their favor. Skagway junior Hailey Jensen was the first of her team to hit double figures this season, and Kiara Selmer and Eliza Myers would join that club later.

Against Gustavus, the Panthers unleashed the kind of offense fans were accustomed to seeing during the state championship runs a few years ago. Granted, it came against a team that was playing for the first time ever, but victory was sweet.

“There was absolute jubilation,” said coach Mike Sawsey about the team earning its first win in two years. “There was no group of happier people on the planet. We came out and played really good basketball.”

He said the girls have greatly improved their passing skills and are driving to the basket with confidence. In one of the Gustavus games, a shot chart showed all but two made from close to the basket, a coach’s dream. And the defense has been stellar. Swasey said getting that taste of victory will help them play at a good level against better teams as they move forward.

Before hitting the road for the long Prince of Wales trip next month, the Lady Panthers will face a Whitehorse team in an exhibition series Feb. 5-6 at home.

The Skagway boys also tasted victory again this month with a big win over F.H. Collins of Whitehorse in the Don Hather Tourney. This came despite injuries to two starters. Alex Ackerman suffered a concussion after hitting the back of his head on the floor against Hoonah, and Colton Belisle strained a foot muscle against Kake.

Still, the Panthers played through it with just five players active during most of the tourney. They were competitive against Hoonah, did not give up against a very good Kake team, and whipped FHC on tired legs.

Back at full strength against a tough Gustavus team, Skagway got good point production from Kota Shindo, Danny Brady and Ackerman and made great runs at the end of the games that almost turned the scoreboard in their favor. Micah Cook sustained a minor ankle sprain and sat out most of the series, but Steaven McKnight stepped up on the boards against a bigger team.

“We had a near win,” said coach Scott Lesh. “We looked better the second game. We make improvements every game. They are playing better team basketball. They are starting to understand the game.”

The team has two weeks of practice to get ready for the first road trip of the season, a long one to POW with games against Hydaburg, Klawock and Thorne Bay starting Feb. 11. Lesh says their goal is to show improvement every game.

DHT KUDOS – At the Don Hather Tourney awards ceremony, Shindo and Brady were named to the boys’ all tourney team, and Jensen and Myers made it for the SHS girls. The championship games of the DHT were thrillers. The Arctic Winter Games Yukon team beat Kake 41-37, while the Kake girls prevailed over FH Collins of Whitehorse 35-31.