Kirk thrives during rookie campaign with UAF Nanooks
Briana Kirk knew she was going to go somewhere to play college basketball. A 5-foot-8 guard for the Noatak Lynx, Kirk had excelled on the court and helped carry her team to a berth in the Class 2A state basketball tournament.
Her success had earned her all-state accolades, the Class 2A Player of the Year honors and drew the interest of a pair of smaller colleges in the state of Washington.
Her path was set, she figured.
Those plans all came to an abrupt end last April with the simple click of a mouse.
Fresh off leading the Lynx to second at regional and a berth in the state tournament, Kirk seemed destined to accept an offer to play college ball at Highline Community College or Peninsula College. Both had shown plenty of interest during the year.
"I had offers from the two Washington schools, and that is what I was going to do," said Kirk.
Then, one day in April, an email changed all of that. It was an email from University of Alaska-Fairbanks' head coach Cody Burgess asking if she would be interested in coming to Fairbanks for a tryout.
I was surprised when I got it (the email)," said Kirk. "I went up for a tryout and I was offered a scholarship."
It was the best possible move for her, said Kirk, who serves as a backup guard for the Nanooks.
Through the Nanooks' first seven games of the 2012-13 season, Kirk has developed into one of UAF's top reserves. After not playing in the Lady Nanooks' season-opening loss to the Colorado School of Mines, she has steadily seen her minutes increase.
Last week, in UAF's loss to rival University of Alaska-Anchorage, she played nine minutes, scoring two points and grabbing a rebound.
A week earlier against Winona State, she pulled down a season-high three rebounds.
"It (playing at UAF) is definitely a higher level of competition," said Kirk, who had moved to Noatak in 2000 when her father decided his family needed to be closer to relatives and moved from Anchorage back to his hometown. "The players are better at this level so you have to work hard to improve."
Kirk said the team's travel schedule is also a bit more challenging than what she had grown accustomed to in high school.
"In high school, we played the same teams every year so you kind of new what it took to get ready. Here, we travel to other places to play teams. It's been an adjustment for me, but it's been an exciting one, too."
Despite her emergence, the wins have not come easy for UAF. The Lady Nanooks have opened the season with an 0-7 mark, including an 0-1 record in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
"It has been an awesome experience," she said. "I've been learning a lot and trying to improve. This has been everything I could dream of even though we are still coming together as a team."
By signing with UAF, Kirk also extended the Lady Nanooks' reach into rural Alaska - and her own family's ties with the basketball program. At UAF, Kirk is teamed with her cousin, junior guard Marissa Atoruk.
A speedy 5-foot-6 guard, Atoruk starred in high school at Kiana. She earned a spot on the UAF roster in 2011 as a walk-on.
"It's been really fun playing with her," said Kirk. "We never played together in high school, so this is kind of fun for us."
Atoruk, the daughter of Kiana's Marilyn Shield, is one of UAF's top three-point threats. Through the team's first seven games, she has buried six shots from behind the three-point arc. For the year, she has started two games for the Lady Nanooks and averaged better than 13 minutes per game.
Kirk and Atoruk will return to action on Dec. 17 when they face Dallas Christian College. The two teams will play two games in two days at the UAF Patty Center, beginning at 5:15 p.m. each day.