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Pili, Swayman, Sellers, Donley named Pride of Alaska winners as Alaska’s top athletes, highlight 2023 Directors’ Awards class

by | Apr 5, 2023 | Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, Alpine Skiing, Basketball, Cover Story, Cross Country Running, Hockey, Track and Field

A downhill skier on a breathtaking upward trajectory. A backup goaltender in a front-and-center role for the best team in the National Hockey League. A pair of players who have scored more points than any other girls in the history of Alaska high school basketball – and who are on course to meet as rivals next season in the Pac-12.

The winners of this year’s Pride of Alaska awards, announced Wednesday by the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and Alaska’s News Source, are four young athletes who excel on snow, ice and the hardwood. They were deemed the athletes of the year in a vote by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors.

Some have already ascended to the top of their sport; some seem destined to get there:

  • Finnigan Donley, 17, an Alyeska Ski Club skier who won two age-group national alpine championships and made an impressive debut on the world stage;
  • Alissa Pili, 21, the Pac-12 Player of the Year for the University of Utah who foreshadowed her college greatness by scoring a state-record 2,614 points in four seasons at Dimond High;
  • Sayvia Sellers, 18, who broke Pili’s scoring record with 2,651 points during a four-year career at Anchorage Christian. She plans to play for the University of Washington, which means she could face Pili a couple of times next season.
  • Jeremy Swayman, 24, one of the NHL top young goalies who has spent the last two months rotating in goal for the mighty Boston Bruins.

Along with the Pride of Alaska winners, the recipients of three other Directors Awards were announced Wednesday. The awards show can be viewed here.

Three runners — Vanessa Aniteye in the adult division and Geremu Daggett and Colton Merriner in the youth division — received the Trajan Langdon Award, which honors leadership, sportsmanship and inspiration.

The Joe Floyd Award, for lasting and significant contribution to Alaska through sports, went to Kathleen Navarre, a longtime coach, administrator and event organizer.

All will be honored at the Hall of Fame’s annual awards banquet and induction ceremony April 27 at the Anchorage Museum. The event is free and open to the public.

Highlighting the night will be the induction of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 – Fairbanks football player Reggie Tongue, Palmer basketball player Jessica Moore and Kodiak coaching great Joe Floyd in the individuals category; Kikkan Randall’s 2018 Olympic gold medal in the moments category; and March Madness Alaska/state high school basketball championships in the event category.

Here a closer look at the Directors Awards recipients:

Jeremy Swayman, Pride of Alaska (adult men’s division)

Jeremy Swayman

Swayman has shown that he’s too valuable to sit on the bench as a backup.

The right-hander from Anchorage has been alternating starts with Vezina Trophy frontrunner Linus Ullmark since mid-February, and he’s more than earned his playing time.

Swayman is 21-6-4 as the playoffs approach, a record that includes four shutouts, a 2.24 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.

He’s been red-hot since becoming an every-other-game starter – 7-2-0 with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 save percentage. As of April 1, he’s the winner of five straight games, a streak that includes two shutouts.

The Bruins intend to go with Ullmark during the playoffs, but Swayman offers a dependable safety net if needed. With 51 wins and nine shutouts in three seasons, he’s one of the best young goaltenders in Boston history. Only one other goalie had more wins before age 25 (Frank Brimsek with 64) and only two had more shutouts before age 25 (Brimsek with 16 and Tuukka Rask with 11.

Other finalists: Keegan Messing; Santiago Prosser

Alissa Pili, Pride of Alaska (women’s division)

Alissa Pili

Pili, a 6-foot-2 forward, emerged as one of the top players in the nation as a junior transfer for the University of Utah.

The Dimond High grad was one of 10 players named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s prestigious Division I All-America team after a stellar junior season.

She led the Utes to a 27-5 record and a spot in the Sweet 16; she was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year; and she garnered second-team All-America honors from both the Associated Press and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

Pili, who transferred to Utah from USC, finished among the nation’s leaders in two statistical categories. She ranked 16th in scoring average (20.7) and 14th in shooting percentage (58.96).

In her first two NCAA Tournament games she scored a combined 61 points, but Pili’s season ended with a Sweet 16 loss to eventual champion Louisiana State, which eked out a three-point victory.

Other finalists: Lydia Jacoby; Eve Stephens

Finnigan Donley, Pride of Alaska (boys division)

Finnigan Donley. Photo by Roger Kimball

This is the year the rest of the world learned what Alaskans already knew: Finnigan Donley is a rising star in alpine skiing.

Donley, who turned 18 in late February, was the top U18 downhill skier at the World Junior Championships in January, the U18 overall champion at the U.S. Junior Nationals in March, and the top U18 finisher in the first two events at the U.S. National Championships, which end Wednesday in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Donley was an Alyeska Ski Club star for several years as a youngster before he headed south nearly two years ago to join the Sun Valley Ski Education alpine squad.

He’s been nearly unbeatable in his age group this season.

At the World Junior Championships for the world’s best skiers under 21, he was the top U18 skier in the downhill (placing 29th overall) and the second-best U18 skier in the super-G (placing 13th overall).

At the Junior Nationals, he collected the U18 overall champion with golds in the downhill and super-G, bronze in the slalom and sixth place in the giant slalom.

At the U.S. Nationals, he claimed fifth place in the super-G and 14th in the slalom, and in each race he was the top U18 skier. The giant slalom is Wednesday.

Other finalists: Jack Nash; P.J. Foy

Sayvia Sellers, Pride of Alaska (girls division)

Sayvia Sellers. Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

Sayvia Sellers packed a lot of memories into her final two games for Anchorage Christian.

During a Friday semifinal game at the state championships, she broke the career scoring record for Alaska girls with a 30-point game that vaulted her past the previous record held by Dimond’s Alissa Pili.

The next night, she pumped in 32 points to power ACS to the state title, the third of her career (her shot at four state titles was foiled by COVID, which cancelled the state tournament during her freshman year).

A 5-foot-7 point guard, Sellers is considered one of the nation’s top recruits. She was an honorable mention pick for the Naismith High School All-America team, and after being recruited by several colleges she made an oral commitment to the University of Washington.

She finished her high school career with 2,651 career points to knock Pili into second place with 2,614.

“Sayvia is incredible,” ACS coach Chad Dyson told the Anchorage Daily News. “She does everything we ask her to do, puts in extra work, is in the gym constantly looking to become better at basketball and she truly loves the game.”

Other finalists: Trinity Donovan; Olyvia Mamae

Vanessa Aniteye, Trajan Langdon Award (adult division)

Vanessa Aniteye. Photo courtesy Seattle Pacific Athletics

Aniteye was a six-time Division II All-America runner at UAA before she got married, got pregnant and relocated to Seattle.

The Eagle River woman took a two-year break from track before deciding to resume her college career at Seattle Pacific University — a comeback that started while she was still breastfeeding and ended with an NCAA national championship at 800 meters.

Along the way she maintained her marriage and nurtured her son, all while going to school and training full-time.

“There’s always people who ask, ‘How can you do this? I don’t know how you do it.’ Same thing for my coaches. They are aware that I’m not just a student-athlete,” Aniteye said in a press release from Seattle Pacific.

“It’s kind of outdoing yourself and seeing what you can do. We’re moms, but we’re more than that.”

Nearly three years after the birth of her son, Aniteye won the 800 finals at the Division II national championships with a personal-best time of 2:06.84. She finished her career as a nine-time All-American and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s female track athlete of the year.

Other finalists: Robin Beebee/Christy Marvin; Hunter Keefe

Geremu Daggett and Colton Merriner, Trajan Langdon Award (youth division)

Geremu Daggett helps teammate Colton Merriner across the finish line. Photos by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

Merriner, a sophomore, pushed himself to the limit at the Division II state cross country championships, determined to give Grace Christian the best effort he could summon.

So complete was his sacrifice that he collapsed several meters away from the finish line. He had nothing more to give.

Daggett, a senior who had run much of the 3.1-mile race with Merriner, was a few strides ahead — nearly at the finish line — when saw his teammate fall. He stopped racing and started retreating.

Daggett picked up his teammate and dragged him across the finish line. Two runners passed him as he coaxed and carried Merriner, dropping Daggett into 15th place. But preserving his spot in the results wasn’t Daggett’s priority.

“I wouldn’t change one bit of it,” Daggett told Channel 2. “God has a plan, and he had me there and I am thankful that I could help him.”

Merriner didn’t count as an official finisher because he didn’t cross the finish line under his own power. Grace Christian nonetheless won the team championship, one made sweeter by Daggett’s sportsmanship.

Other finalists: Emily Robinson; Kenai Central/Zach Armstrong

Kathleen Navarre, Joe Floyd Award

Kathleen Navarre

At a 2018 state volleyball tournament at Dimond High, Navarre helped maintain order when a 7.0 earthquake damaged the gym,rattled the teams and disrupted the schedule.

During COVID shutdowns in 2020, she adjusted when a basketball tournament she was in charge of had to move from Dimond’s big gym to a much smaller gymnasium at a private school.

Navarre spent nearly three decades at Dimond and Kodiak as a coach, athletic director, event organizer and troubleshooter. As a coach, she guided multiple teams to region and state championships in track, flag football, basketball and volleyball.

Since her retirement in 2021 from the Anchorage School District, Navarre has stayed in the game by helping to organize events for the Alaska School Activities Association.

Other finalists: Charles Scott; Rob Proffitt

Story made possible by:

Family of Sponsors

Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

Family of Sponsors

Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

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