Thirteen years after coaching the Kodiak High School boys basketball team to an Alaska state championship, Belleville West graduate Amy Rakers-Fogle has duplicated the feat with the Kodiak girls.
The Bears completed a 27-0 season March 22 when they defeated Colony High 65-41 in the Class 4A championship game at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. Fogle's boys team was 28-0 in 2001.
"I don't know how one gets so lucky," said the 44-year-old Fogle, appreciating the uniqueness of the accomplishment.
The championship was the first for the Kodiak girls squad since 1981, before Fogle became a dominant post player at West and eventually Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
"This particular group of girls was very athletic," Fogle said Thursday afternoon. "Five of my eight seniors played like guys. I think all five of them are going to play college basketball --Division II or junior college.
"I had a true point guard, I had a 6-2 post player, I had a power forward who was 5-10 and rebounded like crazy, I had a 3-point shooter and I had a small forward that was left-handed and drove. We had the whole package. We were very hard to match up with. All five of them scored consistently."
Fogle, in her second stint with the girls team, succeeded Stephanie Smiley last fall when Smiley left Kodiak to become director of basketball operations at Western Michigan University.
Smiley left behind a talented group of players, and it wasn't long before Fogle emerged as the leading candidate to replace Smiley.
But it was anything but slam-dunk timing for Fogle. Her husband, Phil, is a commercial fisherman who works from March through November, returning in the winter months when basketball season is played. Fogle was hesitant to relinquish family time with her husband, daughter Avery, 9, and son Davis, 7.
"The job opened up, and honestly, I wasn't even interested in it," said Fogle, who graduated from West in 1987. "I enjoy coaching boys more, and I have a 9- and a 7-year-old and my husband's a commercial fisherman. So I was not all that interested."
One of Fogle's assistant coaches was Nick Billings, a 7-foot center who played on her boys team in 2001. Fogle said Billings was a "bug in my ear," encouraging her to take the position. Residents of the basketball-crazed community, whose population is listed at a little more than 6,000, also implored Fogle to take the job.
"When they found out Stephanie was leaving, people were like, 'You've got to take this team. They're going to win the state championship,'" Fogle said. "I was like, 'It doesn't happen that way.' ... Being a small town, people were talking to me a lot about it. It came down to the fact I didn't want some new coach to come in that didn't have any experience and was building a program. I didn't feel like that was fair to the girls.
"Not that I was the best (coach); I'm sure they would have found someone else. But I know the community and I know how to fund-raise. I wanted the kids to have a good experience this year. That was the reason. I had eight seniors. I wanted them to go out with a bang."
It was more like a boom. The 65 points scored by Kodiak in the championship game were the most in 30 years since Alaska high schools were divided into more than one class. The 24-point margin of victory was the largest for a state-title game.
Fogle said the Bears had no weaknesses, save a lack of depth.
But no one could match their all-senior starting lineup of 6-2 center Hannah Wandersee, point guard Jerica Nelson --who played at Colony as a freshman and sophomore --shooting guard Carissa Cannon and forwards Adriane Horn and Megan Pyles.
All five players came up big in the championship game, led by Cannon's 21 points, five steals and four assists. Wandersee had 10 points and 13 rebounds, Nelson had 11 points, six steals and five assists, Horn had 12 points and Pyles had 11 points and nine rebounds. Kodiak outrebounded Colony 41-26.
"All five of them were not going to wait and see if someone else had a great game," Fogle said. "It was, 'I'm going to take care of it.' They were very confident. All three games, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we were single digits in turnovers, but we forced double digits from the other team. And we outrebounded everybody."
Fogle said Cannon often was overshadowed.
"She's been our silent player," Fogle said. "She's done a ton for us but she hasn't gotten great publicity. It was great to see her have a great championship game."
Fogle said the only problem she encountered with her players came in the first six games when she noticed they "got bored very quickly."
"They would get bored and do crazy things and throw the ball away," she said. "I put in a fullcourt press and a halfcourt trap. We basically pressed and halfcourt-trapped the entire game until it was out of reach. That calmed their minds a little bit. That gave them other jobs besides just scoring."
Fogle said all her seniors also will succeed off the court.
"They're good kids with good families," she said. "All that makes a difference. It's not always just talent."
Coaching boys or girls, Fogle said she doesn't alter her style.
"I didn't run the same offense with the girls as I did with the boys, but I ran the same press and the same halfcourt trap, so there were a lot of similarities," she said.
"This girls team was better player for player, maybe, but the boys team was so smart. The whole state was good (that year). Five, six, seven, eight teams could have won state. There were probably only two or three teams that could have won state this year with the girls."
The Belleville years
Fogle played for coach Larry Betz at West, and the two remain in contact. Fogle remembers how the Maroons always were among the best teams in the metro-east late in the season.
"Great coach," Fogle said of Betz. "He wasn't worried about us being a good team at the beginning of the season. It was finishing the season strong (that mattered). His development of players, you could see how much better everyone got at the end of the season. I remember practices and how he planned practices, the things we worked on, and conditioning. I do a lot of the same things he did."
Including living in the moment.
"I'm a live-in-the-day kind of person," Fogle said. "I try to appreciate every day. That's the motto we went with every day. We worried about every practice. It was that day we were worried about. We're not worried about who we're going to see in the next round. I emphasized playing in the moment."
Fogle, however, then paused a moment to laugh at herself.
"One of my girls was at my house (Wednesday) and she said, 'Coach, you always talked to us about not being stressed and living in the moment. I don't think you did,'" Fogle said. "I was a basket case for about a month (this season).
"This is a great basketball town. The community loves basketball, but they love good basketball. ... That put a lot of pressure on me. The kids are always the ones that make a difference."
After graduating from West, Fogle went on to become the career scoring leader at SIU Carbondale with 1,538 points. She holds single-season records in points (643), rebounds (325) and field goals (267).
Fogle spent one year playing professionally in Japan after graduating from SIUC. She then visited a friend in Alaska and "ended up staying." It's where she met her husband, and she already has been there longer than she lived in Belleville.
"I can't even believe that," she said.
Fogle's father, Ralph, died several years ago. Her mother, Helen, still lives in Belleville. Fogle visits once or twice a year.
"In the last 10 years, with my kids being younger, I think we've been back there almost twice every year," she said. "It gets harder as you get older."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.