Renatta Olson, Joallyn Johnson, and Mt. Edgecumbe girls basketball coach Dane Vincent. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Renatta Olson, Joallyn Johnson, and Mt. Edgecumbe girls basketball coach Dane Vincent. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The Mt. Edgecumbe Lady Braves came within striking distance of the state 3A basketball championship last weekend, but did not quite get there.

The Lady Braves lost in the finals to the ACS Lady Lions by four points, 45 – 49.

Mt. Edgecumbe coach Dane Vincent and two of his players dropped by our studios and talked about the tournament with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey.

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Listen to an extended interview with Mt. Edgecumbe coach Dane Vincent and his players on the Morning Interview. (Available after 8:30 AM Wed Mar 26.)

For juniors Joallyn Johnson and Renatta Olson, going to the state tournament in Anchorage is not just about basketball. It’s about having a chance to reconnect with family members whom you’ve been apart from since the holidays.

Many of Johnson’s family traveled from Kotlik, on the Yukon River, to see her play. Olson’s mother traveled from her hometown of Golovin, just outside of Nome.

Seeing familiar faces in the stands of the Sullivan Arena was a big deal for these girls.

“Being here at Edgecumbe it’s hard not having family — like everyone else — to support you during the season. And it meant a lot, for those who had supporters, to go and watch us play.

The Lady Braves were consistent and strong throughout the regular season. With Sitka hampered by injuries, Mt. Edgecumbe was the favorite at the regional tournament.

At state, it was a different matter. The first problem was Nikiski. A big team, and the number 2-ranked school in the Southcentral region.

Olson says Nikiski tried to neutralize the Lady Braves’ low post, Taryn White. But it backfired.

“Nikiski’s team is all really tall compared to our team. Right off the bat they were double-teaming her (Taryn White), and it was hard for us to get it into her. So we started doing a high screen up top, and that opened it up a lot. And we attacked the basket and drew fouls, and that’s what worked for us.”

Joallyn Johnson scored 7 points in that game, as the Lady Braves beat Nikiski 49 – 39 from the outside.

“I was kind of nervous, but I was ready to play them. We had to get through them to get to the semi-finals.”

After Nikiski, the Lady Braves took on Barrow, the top-seeded team from the Western Region. Mt. Edgecumbe had beaten the Lady Whalers by a large margin early in the season. Both teams improved, but the Lady Braves kept Barrow off the basket and won 42-29, drawing only three personal fouls the entire game.

That put the Lady Braves in the finals, against the Anchorage Christian School, the number-1 seed in Southcentral.

ACS had earned their way into the championship with the press — applying full-court pressure to teams for most of a game, forcing turnovers, and then running in easy baskets.

Against the Lady Braves, however, coach Dane Vincent says ACS abandoned the press almost entirely.

“I take it as a compliment that a strong team, who has banked on it all year long, backed out of it and went to a half-court.”

By keeping the Lady Braves off the basket, ACS was able to open up a large lead at times, but they could not shut down Mt. Edgecumbe’s Taryn White, who would go on to score 23 points. With just a few minutes to play, the Lady Braves executed a key three-point play, forced a turnover, and Renatta Olson put in a layup to bring the Lady Braves within two.

Even though they didn’t make it, coach Dane Vincent smiles as he recalls the game. He’s been coaching ten years — but this is his first season at Mt. Edgecumbe.

“Any new coach can tell you going into a program: If the students and the athletes don’t buy into what you have to sell, it won’t fly. But these guys have bought into my offense, bought into this new defense that we’ve put in. And I got a lot of support from them. Renatta’s done an excellent job being a court general. You can tell her what to do, and even if she thinks it’s wrong she’s going to do it. And if it doesn’t maintain, we don’t have to stick to anything. They’ve done a really good job of buying into things, and I appreciate that as a coach.”

The Lady Braves will lose only one senior off this year’s team, Brittany Akaran. Both Joallyn Johnson and Renatta Olson will be back, and looking forward to doing even better next year.

“We went from last year being the runner-up at regions to being the runner-up at state. So I think that it should make us work that much harder. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m already excited.”