Ari’el Godinez Long dribbles the basketball up court during a game against the top-seeded Tikigaq Harpoonerettes. (John Hagen photo)

The Glacier Bears girls team knew that they faced a tough opponent going into their opening game of the state tournament against the Tikigaq Harpoonerettes. 

What they experienced was the most intense basketball they’d faced all season from the defending state champions. 

On defense, the deep team from Point Hope kept tight pressure on, forcing errors from the Glacier Bears, while their offense sank improbable shot after improbable shot. 

“We haven’t encountered anyone that put on so much defensive pressure, but it frazzled everybody,” said senior Gracie Stickler, who led the Bears in their 26-64 defeat. 

Gracie Stickler attempts a shot in a game against Tikigaq (John Hagen photo)

The Bears trailed 15-35 by halftime, and added just 11 points in the second half. Still, players said there wasn’t more they could do against the Harpoonerettes, who are vying for a rare three-peat at state. 

“In the effort department, we tried our best. In the execution department it didn’t quite work out,” said junior Ari’el Godinez Long. 

The Bears faced a more familiar opponent in their Friday game against Glennallen, whom they had played twice and lost both games earlier this season. The Bears led 14-3 at the end of the first quarter, but the Panthers found their groove to take a lead at halftime. The Bears lost 32-23. 

Senior Raven Hotch said the team was missing sharpshooter Emma Dohrn, who hurt her back, making the loss difficult to swallow.

“That one was a little harder to take,” she said. “She’s one of our leading scorers

It was harder to get our rhythm.”

Still, Hotch said that having younger bench players step up and play well was gratifying to see as a senior playing her last game. She — and other team members — have said the team bond has been exceptionally tight this year. While the back-to-back losses were tough to take, Hotch said that making state two years in a row — and bonding with the rest of the team — has been rewarding. 

Emma Dohrn plays in a Thursday game against Tikigaq. Dohrn didn’t play Friday because of an injured back. (John Hagen photo)

“I don’t think I’ll ever miss anything more than playing with this team,” said Hotch. 

The Glacier Bears faced a tight turnaround after finishing second at regionals to Metlakatla last week. The Bears had one day in Haines on Monday filled with organizing an impromptu auction to raise money for plane tickets before flying to Anchorage on Tuesday. 

Raven Hotch attempts a shot during a game against Tikigaq (John Hagen photo)

The team went shopping at the 5th Avenue Mall, had dinner at Olive Garden, and took a hike at Kincaid Park to stretch out their legs in between their games. 

The team was supported by several parents who made the trip to Anchorage, plus some fans in town with Haines connections who cheered for them at the huge Alaska Airlines Center at the UAA campus. 

The team leaves Anchorage Sunday. Players said they’d be supporting other Southeast Alaska teams at their games, catching up on homework, and enjoying the big-city attractions of Anchorage until then. 

“We’re here to cheer others on as well,” said Godinez Long, in a phone interview while watching Region V rival Metlakatla take on Nenana. 

For Godinez Long, a co-captain with one more year to play, it was a hard way to end the season. 

“I wish it could have ended differently. It feels like we’re stuck in the same loop as last year, but we did as much as we could,” she said. 

That’s combined with the sadness of losing graduating seniors Stickler and Hotch, whom she’s played with for years. 

“They’ve been with me the whole time I’ve been playing,” she said. “I’ve watched them grow, they’ve watched me grow.”

But she also said the team is already thinking about next year and ways to add intensity to practices, in hopes of getting to the next level at state next year.