A pair of Cordova High School girls conference road games scheduled against Glennallen on Feb. 3-4 were cancelled due to a combination of factors, including injuries, illness, and Iceworm Festival commitments.
The Lady Wolverines have been playing most of the season with a roster of seven. They finished a dramatic double overtime win against SuValley on Jan. 14 with only four players on the court after three starters had fouled out.
The same seven girls were key players on Cordova’s volleyball team, which made it all the way to the State 2A Tournament. In fact, most of them switched to basketball gear two days after those championships ended, squeezing in five practices, and soon packing their gear for the four day Rally the Regions tournament in Anchorage on Dec. 27-30.
Practice for volleyball began in August before school classes started, so this same group has basically been playing sports for over five straight months. Travel by ferry, van, bus, and plane can be exhausting, plus sleeping on floors in strange places and dining a la carte out of shopping centers is not exactly the best preparation for athletic performance.
A long three-day, three game trip to Palmer and Nenana preceded the cancellation. It should not be surprising that a winter flu bug that has been rampaging through Cordova finally caught up with these dedicated CHS players and their coaches.
Cordova is not the only school dealing with small squads this year. Fans may have overlooked the fact that SuValley also had a seven-member squad when they faced CHS here on January 13-14.
During the Cordova Tipoff on Jan. 19-21, 3A Eielson also featured a short bench of two backup players. Once a big Aurora Conference powerhouse, Eielson High School’s enrollment is down to 155, due to cutbacks in aircraft at Eielson Air Force Base.
Raven Coach Connie Browder, former longtime assistant to current Eielson AD Kelly Growden, mentioned she had only nine players turn out, and two were lost to injuries and ineligibility. The ASAA 3A classification range is 151 to 500 students, and Eielson is now very close to the 2A range of 61 to 150.
“We’re hoping the arrival of a squadron of new F-35 fighter jets will boost our numbers”, said Brower. “Right now it’s pretty sad to see a gymnasium that will seat a thousand almost empty during our home games.”
It could be worse. The high school enrollment at nearby Yakutat has dropped to the twenties. Their once proud 2A basketball program produced several state champions. Now they are a 1A school with only a girls squad this year, as there were not enough boys for a team.
Ironically, one of their top young players is now a Cordova Wolverine. Former Yakutat 2A Coach of the Year Bert Adams has moved to Cordova, and his son Christian, a 6-0 freshman, is already making major contributions to this year’s team. Another young former Yakutat player was on the Haines squad which was here for Tipoff.
Meanwhile, first year Lady Wolverine Coach Brad Sjostedt marches on. He, too, was victim of the flu bug that decimated his squad. He has already put in a long season, coaching the Cordova junior high girls starting this fall, and now the varsity squad this winter. Lest we forget, Sjostedt also works full time out at the airport for Alaska Airlines, when not bouncing around the state on land, sea, and air, or spending two hours per night at practices, as part of his coaching duties.
The cancelled games against Glennallen will count as forfeits, and losses, come Conference playoff seeding. Yet help is on the horizon. This year’s high school squad features only one senior.
“We have two girls that have never played before working out with the team. Plus we had four 8th graders and eight 7th graders on the junior high teams, and were able to play both A and B games for most of the games,” said Sjostedt. “They had a good season, and hopefully will be the Lady Wolverines of the future.”
Meanwhile, Sjostedt and his new assistant, Danny Hayden, who played her high school ball at Mat-Su Valley 4A Colony and now teaches PE and Health classes at CHS, are looking forward to the rest of the season.
“I think we all needed a break”, said Sjostedt, who was still coughing away between sentences. “We’re counting on being back to full strength for the big Valdez Elks tournament on February 9-11.”