Colton Combs during a home game in February, 2024. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

The Glacier Bears boys basketball team had just one victory under their belts coming into the Region V Regional Tournament last weekend in Sitka.

It came at a home game against Craig, and the Bears played strong ball to beat the same team in their opening game at regionals by a score of 59-53.

The Glacier Bears fell in their next two games against region champions Metlakatla and second-ranked Wrangell, but coach James Hart said the performances showed potential.
“We peaked at the right time,” said Hart. “We finally got to see them operate in a way I knew they could the whole season.

From the beginning of the season, Hart said he was focused on developing game-play awareness of the team coming off years of less-than-normal practice times due to COVID-19 closures. The young team, which doesn’t have any seniors, showed moments of brilliance throughout the season, Hart said, but struggled particularly on offense.

For the Bears, that meant trusting teammates to be in their positions throughout the game, and not overplaying defense.

At regionals, the team lost in a relatively tight game to Metlakatla, 49-43, and against Wrangell, they fell 60-49. Hart said he watched small things change and develop throughout the season, starting with the team warmups.

He and other coaching staff pushed players to run back to the halfcourt line in between shots on the layup line during warmups, and boost each other’s energy with high fives.
Players Colton Combs and Phoenix Swaner were named All-Conference players of the tournament, which Hart said was a big deal.

“You don’t automatically get two players. The coaches select who they feel deserve it, and that means every coach saw that player as being a high-caliber player,” said Hart.
He said Swaner shot over 40% on 3-point attempts, including some impressive moves he hadn’t used in games before like step-back threes.

“He really broke out and played his best basketball that tournament,” said Hart.
Hart also singled out sophomore JC Davis for his contributions on defense.
“A lot of times defense isn’t really looked at in terms of spectators, but for us to watch him (JC) shut down players that are huge contributors for other teams … it gives us a chance to win,” said Hart.

Hart said he was already excited for next season.

“If this group gets serious enough and wants to make it to state, I don’t see why there isn’t a potential for that next year. We’re not losing any of our players, and you can only get better as players having the confidence that they know they can compete,” he said.