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Prep Hoops: Bartlett girls relish opportunity against No. 1-ranked Wasilla in 4A state tournament

by | Mar 19, 2024 | Basketball, Cover Story, Prep Spotlight

Bartlett coach Darian Lawson talks with his team during a timeout. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Facing the state’s No. 1-ranked team in the first round of the state tournament would have some people calling foul, but Bartlett girls basketball coach Darian Lawson is calling his shot.

The third-year coach wouldn’t be surprised if his eighth seeded Golden Bears upset Wasilla, even if the rest of the state would be.

That’s because at this point of the season, you had better believe your team can win every matchup, even when others don’t.

“I always have the us-against-the-world mentality regardless of who we play or when we play them,” Lawson said. “Sustaining a culture centered around our group identity, rather than external perceptions, is important to us.”

Bartlett received one of two at-large berths to the Class 4A state tournament as Lawson has his team dancing in March for the second time as he builds on the state title the Bears won in 2021 when he was an assistant on Clarence Smith’s coaching staff.

Lawson also won a state championship as a player for West in 2016, playing alongside Da’Zhon Wyche and Brandon Huffman.

His title aspirations extend to his players. Lawson believes in hard truths, even when it means telling a kid something they don’t want to hear. If the truth hurts, embrace it.

Bartlett’s Mariya Oliver takes it to the hole. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

“A consistent theme in our season and program is honesty, being truthful about our team identity, strengths, and weaknesses,” he said. “My players have embraced the reality that we may often face opponents with more raw talent, which then led to the question ‘How do we compete?’ The answer for us has been in our resilience, relentless effort and our refusal to give up.”

Bartlett’s floor leader is all-conference guard Mariya Oliver, the heartbeat of the team.

“We go as she goes,” Lawson said. “Mariya calms us on the offensive side of the ball and leads us defensively, anchoring our team on both ends of the floor.”

Bartlett will get tested in a big way Wednesday when the Bears face top-ranked Wasilla, which features a pair of returning all-state first teamers in 6-foot-5 center Layla Hays and 5-foot-9 guard Mylee Anderson.

Hays, a junior, is a rim-protecting, walking double-double and surefire Division I player who is being recruited by teams in every Power 5 conference.

Wasilla’s Layla Hays shoots a turnaround jumper. Photo by Bruce Eggleston/MatSu Sports

“They have one of the best post players in the country in Layla Hays,” Lawson said. “I think sometimes it is easy to take for granted the tall post players because 95% of the time they are doing the dirty work but Layla’s impact on a game is huge, and not only does she do all of the little things at a high level, but she is also very skilled.”

Wasilla also possesses a pure playmaker in Anderson, a dribble-drive-and-dish point guard and streaky scorer who is the emotional leader for the Warriors.

“Mylee Anderson is one of the most dynamic guards in Alaska,” Lawson said.

Wasilla is coached by the legendary Jeannie Hebert-Truax, a hall-of-fame player who became a hall-of-fame coach with six state titles and 594 career wins.

“Coaching against Jeannie is always a challenge and it pushes me to grow and adapt as a coach,” Lawson said. “Jeannie has had an incredible career and I have a lot of respect for her and how she runs her program. I always look forward to coaching against her as she is one of the best coaches in the state.”

ASAA March Madness
State Basketball Tournament
At Alaska Airlines Classic
Wednesday’s Quarterfinals
Class 4A Boys

  • 8:00am #2 Service (20-8) vs. Wasilla (12-12)
  • 3:15pm #4 West Valley (21-4) vs. Thunder Mountain (19-9)
  • 4:45pm #1 East (25-1) vs. Palmer (12-13)
  • 6:15pm #5 West (18-9) vs. #3 Monroe Catholic (20-5)

Class 4A Girls

  • 9:30am #2 Colony (23-3) vs. North Pole (11-9)
  • 3:15pm #1 Wasilla (19-5) vs. Bartlett (16-10)
  • 4:45pm #4 Thunder Mountain (22-3) vs. #5 Dimond (22-6)
  • 7:45pm #3 Mountain City Christian (21-4) vs. Service (18-9)

# ASR/Class 4A Coaches Poll rankings

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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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