“I watched her play in fourth grade,” said girls basketball Coach Kelly Smith. “She dominated, even though she was small, she was skilled, that’s when I knew she was going to be special.”
AJ Dela Cruz could be described in the same way her senior year as she was in fourth grade; small, skilled, and dominant. She is now a four-time region champion, a member of Alaska’s all-state team (third team), and is recognized as one of the best shooters in the state of Alaska.
Despite her accolades, AJ was forced to watch from the bench as her team lost to Dimond in the state semi-finals last season. Her ACL betrayed on a simple jump stop late in the season against Juneau.
“It felt horrible missing regions and state last year,” said Dela Cruz. “I had played basketball with those seniors from 6th grade on, so it hurt at first, but it was good to see them still playing well.”
AJ is also not just about All-Conference this, and All-State that; she makes a big impact for her team off of the court as well.
“Her passion for not just basketball, but life is contagious,” says Coach Smith when asked about AJ off the court. “I am proud to get the chance to not only coach her, but to know her as a person. She is a class act.”
When she came back to the court this year, it wasn’t an immediate success, but as she slowly built up confidence in her leg and in her skills, she became the short, dominant force again.
“At first I was just excited to be back there and win,” said Dela Cruz. “We didn’t win my first couple games, but we eventually got to where we wanted to be and started winning.”
Kayhi went 7-1 down the stretch to win the region title. At the state tournament AJ averaged 15 points and ended her career with 21 points in a loss to Chugiak. Most basketball players don’t get the chance to go to state four years in a row and be all-state after a potential career ending injury. AJ Dela Cruz has done it all during her four years as a Lady King.
Skagway boys defeated Kake, 39-37 in the first game of the 1A Region V Tournament. Skagway will play top seeded Hydaburg tomorrow at 3:15 The Skagway Girls defeat Hoonah, 23-19, and will play No 1 seed Klawock Thurs. at 1:30 p.m. See brackets below and follow @kayhicurrent on twitter for updates.
Kayhi (16-6, 5-3) went undefeated last weekend beating Petersburg (14-3, 10-2) in overtime, 57-49, on Thursday, and sweeping Thunder Mountain (13-7, 4-2) 74-64 on Friday and a heart-stopping 68-67 victory on Saturday.
Petersburg suffered its first loss of the season on Thursday after beating Kayhi 62-60 just a week prior. The Vikings then got swept by Metlakatla (15-4, 12-2) 33-55 on Friday and 38-54 on Saturday.
Saturday night the Kings celebrated five seniors for senior night: Jake Smith, Brent Taylor, Shakim Bauer, Randy Estrin, and Noah King. Three of the five seniors were starters for the Kings this season.
Senior Smith made two threes to bring the Kings to a one point lead. Freshman Chris Lee made 1 of 2 free throws to win.
“It was an awesome way to end my high school home career,” said Smith. “It was especially nice to actually have my shots go in compared to the night before.”
By the end of the regular season, the Kings still pulled off a memorable home season. Kayhi has gone undefeated at home (10-0), which has been been better than the past three seasons: 2013-2014 (8-3), 2014-2015 (14-2), 2015-2016 (9-3).
4A Regionals will start March 7 and will be held at JDHS. Kayhi have won three out of five games against Thunder Mountain and three out of four against Juneau-Douglas, but Kayhi’s only losses against the two teams were in Juneau, where Regionals will be held.
Kings Scoring Line
Vs. Petersburg (Feb. 22)
Jake Smith 16, Brent Taylor 12, Chris Lee 11, Marcus Lee 10, Shakim Bauer 6, Robert Seludo 2
Vs. Thunder Mountain (Feb. 24)
Marcus Lee 25, Brent Taylor 18, Chris Lee 17, Shakim Bauer 8, Jake Smith 5, Kyle Smith 1
Vs. Thunder Mountain (Feb. 25)
Marcus Lee 13, Chris Lee 19, Jake Smith 22, Shakim Bauer 3, Brent Taylor 11
The Kayhi Lady Kings (12-11, 5-3) beat the Thunder Mountain Lady Falcons (2-19, 0-6) sweeping the season series. On Thursday, Kayhi won 55-26. The Lady Kings were ahead 35-9 going into the fourth quarter. Thunder Mountain scored 17 points to close the game. Junior Brittany Slick led all scorers with 11 points.
Friday, Thunder Mountain lead 21-20 going into halftime on Friday. Though the Lady Falcons scored 18 in the second half, the Lady Kings came out on top with a 48-38 win.
Freshman Madison Rose provided a spark for the Lady Kings off the bench in the 2nd quarter.
“We weren’t really playing together, so our coach decided to put in the younger players,” said Slick. “That gave them the confidence to go out there and attack them, because they knew they could go into the game and do what they needed to do.”