‘We did it and made history’: Hooper Bay champs reflect on state victory

The Hooper Bay Lady Warriors won the Alaska 2A state basketball championship on April 3, 2021 at Palmer High School. (Greg Lincoln/Delta Discovery)

The Hooper Bay Lady Warriors made history this past weekend when they won the state 2A basketball championship, becoming the first girls team from Hooper Bay to do so. The Lady Warriors took the state title after defeating Talkeetna’s Susitna Valley Rams 36 to 32 on April 3.

After returning to Hooper Bay, the team reflected on their victory.

The moment senior Zoey Lake remembers most from the championship game was after the final buzzer sounded when the crowd, filled with family and friends, rushed to the winning team.

“Everyone congratulating us, hugging us, and seeing their happy tears really fulfilled my heart,” Lake said.

One of the people she hugged was her aunt, Mary Long, who’s also a senior and her teammate. When Long remembers that championship game, she feels two emotions.

“Happiness, joy,” Long said, laughing.

Long marveled that her team was the first Hooper Bay girls basketball team to win state.

“We did it and made history, and it’s really rare for us to win from a small town on the west coast,” Long said.

Another senior, Benise Tall, called the win “overwhelmingly awesome.”

“We wanted it,” Tall said, “so we practiced and practiced.”

The team returned to practice only a month before the state tournament. Before that, it had been a year since the team had been on the court; the pandemic cancelled last year’s state games. Tall had only touched a basketball a few times in the past year, throwing shots in an outdoor hoop during the summer.

When the Hooper Bay school resumed in-person classes in early March, basketball practice also resumed. Tall, who plays forward, said that she had to relearn some elements of the game.

“Post moves, and running and communicating with the team,” Tall said.

Brandi Hale is the lead coach for the Lady Warriors. She had to find a balance between conditioning the girls to play competitively and preventing injury.

“We started off kind of slow, just to get their bodies moving, and then slowly started getting harder, and harder, and harder,” Hale said.

Their first game of the season was against Point Hope, just a week after starting practice.

“And we got slaughtered,” Hale said. “They just outran us.”

But the team kept practicing.

Hale grew up in Hooper Bay. She attended Mt. Edgecombe High School, where she played on the state basketball championship team in 2010. She knew what it took to win state, and believed that her Lady Warriors could do it this year.

“Cause I knew their potential, and I know that they’re talented. So just having them believe in themselves, and they played every single game like they wanted it,” Hale said.

The team is mostly seniors, with no freshmen. Hale has coached for three years and built this team, which makes the state victory particularly sweet.

“They have grown a lot, both on the court and off the court,” Hale said. “They became better leaders. They became better communicators. Their attitude has improved. They have matured a lot, and I am extremely proud of that.”

Seniors Lake, Long, and Tall were each honored as all-star players during the state tournament. Hale is proud of them.

Lake was named player of the game after the first match of the tournament on April 1.

“She’s a big part of our offense. She’s a big part of our defense, and she’s our main post player,” Hale said. “And she’s a lefty. Guarding a lefty, especially down the post, is hard. And she can shoot.”

Long was named player of the game after the semifinal on April 2.

“She wants to win, and she holds her teammates accountable for that. She’s fast. She can drive it in. She gets a lot of rebounds, and goes coast to coast. She’s our best three-point shooter, and she gets a lot of steals, too,” Hale said.

For the championship match on April 3, Tall was named player of the game.

“She’s the most calm. She’s always positive,” Hale said. “She’s always encouraging, and she gets a lot of rebounds, too, as well. In that championship game, she got most of the assists to Zoey.”

On the plane back to Hooper Bay, Hale said that she and the team wished that they could relive the entire tournament all over again.

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