Barrow girls reclaim 3A state championship behind energized fans

Published: Mar. 27, 2022 at 5:04 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When the clock struck zeros in the 3A girls basketball State Championship game, the roar from the crowd could nearly be heard from Utqiagvik, over 700 miles away from the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

The Barrow Whalers used big time baskets, timely defense and hundreds of fans from their hometown to defeat the Sitka Wolves 51-46 for the program’s fifth state championship, and the Whalers first since 2016.

“It helped us a lot,” Barrow head coach Derek Ahgeak said of the crowd. “This is like a homecourt.”

The Whalers clearly fed off of the crowd’s energy, pouring in 20 first quarter points to take control early.

“It is amazing that the crowd can be here with us and watch us play and cheer with us,” senior Jenilee Donovan said. “It is like a booster for everyone and picks up our attitude when we’re down.”

Barrow stretched the lead to double digits by the third quarter, led by Kiara Burnell’s nine points in the frame alone.

“It was our drive, we really wanted to win,” Burnell said. “We grew up together, pretty much. It was our middle school team and we are finally back together.”

However, the Wolves never lied down, chipping away at the second half deficit until it was a four point game with under a minute to go. The Whalers were able to force a turnover, sealing the title.

Ava Brady netted a team-high 16 points for Sitka, who were without starting guard Tawny Smith, who suffered a knee injury in their semifinal win over Monroe Catholic.

Barrow held off Redington 47-40 in the quarterfinals before downing Grace Christian 60-52 Thursday.

“These girls took gradual steps and we got to achieve our goal of a state championship,” Ahgeak said. “...I have been working with them since they were from eighth grade going on to ninth grade, we went on summer trips to work on development and they always hit the gym and they knew that there was a state championship in them, they just had to work for it and we worked and worked and worked and it paid off.”

Donovan earned Player of the Game honors after collecting 16 points, nine rebounds, a pair of steals and a block, but is quick to dish out the credit to her teammates.

“We are a family, we work as a whole family, we can’t work by ourselves as individuals, we need each other to work as a team.”

Barrow, and their fans, will return to the northernmost part of the country as state champions.

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