The Grace Christian boys basketball team nearly broke its championship drought at last year’s 3A state tournament finals but surrendered a late lead and fell to Nome-Beltz in a stunning turn of events.
Almost exactly a year later to the day, the Grizzlies found themselves back on the same stage against the same opponent with the exact same stakes on the line. This time around, they won in commanding fashion, taking the 3A boys title in a 64-33 victory over the Nanooks on Saturday afternoon at the Alaska Airlines Center.
“That win obviously feels amazing,” Grizzlies forward Luke Lentfer said. “We were ready no matter who it was. Houston had a really good game against Nome (in the semis) and we were ready for whoever stepped on the court.”
Saturday’s victory secured the team’s first title since 2017 and the fourth in program history.
“I’m just so happy for my guys,” Grace Christian boys coach Jason Boerger said. “I have nine seniors on this team that really bought in all year to the highest degree and have done everything a coach could ask them to do. They did it with joy and they did it together.”
The Grizzlies dominated from tipoff to the final buzzer, leading the entire game and never even letting the Nanooks within five points after going on an 8-0 run to open the game and a 6-0 run to end the first quarter 14-3. Nome-Beltz was unable to muster enough momentum as Grace Christian extended its lead with each period that followed.
“There was definitely a little extra fire and motivation from last year,” Boerger said. “We just wanted to come out and have our will dictate the pace and how we play the game. I think we were able to do that today.”
When it came to running the table at tournaments, the 2022-23 Grace Christian boys were the experts in the Last Frontier, winning every tournament the team played in this season.
“It started back up in Monroe (Catholic) when we opened up (the season) with a tournament,” Boerger said. “That was a big win for us and it took us to the next level in intensity and focus.”
With each title, including the Alaska Prep Shootout and Alaska Airlines Classic, the Grizzlies further prepared themselves to make a strong run at a state title — and it paid major dividends in the end.
“Those tournaments definitely set us up for easier success here,” Lentfer said. “It was great practice and a great precursor to what we did this weekend.”
The last time a Grace Christian boys team hoisted the first-place trophy in basketball, Lentfer, his cousin Sloan and the rest of the seven seniors on this year’s team were in sixth grade.
“We’ve been working for this for all four years and it’s finally great to see it come to fruition in the last game of my career,” Lentfer said.
While he and all of his teammates are close, being able to go out on top and complete his high school basketball journey with a close relative is especially meaningful.
“It’s been awesome being able to play with (Sloan),” Lenfter said. “I played with him before high school in junior high and he’s gotten so much better over the years.”
The Lentfer name is one of a few that’s synonymous with high school hoops in Alaska. Luke’s father, Jeff, was a star player at Service in the early 1990s and led the Cougars to their first state championship in program history in 1991.
While the two cousins were able to add to the impressive family legacy, they weren’t even the first Lentfers to be crowned champion on Saturday.
Those bragging rights belong to Luke’s younger sister Sophie, who helped lead the Grace Christian girls team to their first title in program history just hours before.
“The Lentfer legacy in basketball is definitely something I appreciate contributing to, and I’m sure my sister is going to do an even better job with that in the next couple of years,” he said.
Even though the Grizzlies will be graduating a lot of talent and the majority of their championship-winning team, their foundation remains strong, and they’re returning some key players. On track to return: junior Kellen Jedlicka, who led the team in scoring against the Nanooks with a game-high 21 points.
“I think he’ll be one of the best players in the state next year regardless of classification,” Boerger said. “We have some great young talent in the freshmen group and we’re going to work hard to get back to this tournament and continue our success.”
Saturday’s title tilt marked the final sanctioned basketball game of Lentfer’s athletic career as he intends to play rugby in college at West Point. Nevertheless, he is grateful to have been a part of history and can’t wait to see how the program will continue to build going forward.
“It’s going to be awesome to come back to see next year’s team play and be able to see a banner on the wall and remember my teammates and how much we worked together,” Lentfer said.
3A Boys State Basketball Tournament
Mt. Edgecumbe 43, Kenai Central 37
Grace Christian 68, Delta 36
Nome-Beltz 65, Barrow 50
Houston 64, Valdez 51
Valdez 47, Barrow 45
Kenai 60, Delta 31
Grace Christian 50, Mt. Edgecumbe 33
Nome-Beltz 68, Houston 63 (2 OT)
Valdez 48, Kenai 44
Houston 65, Mt. Edgecumbe 59
Grace Christian 64, Nome-Beltz 33
Boys 3A All-Tournament Team
Jakob Kvasnikoff, Kenai; Luke Lentfer, Grace Christian; Kaison Herrmann, Mt. Edgecumbe; Noah Whitted, Houston; Jade Greene, Nome-Beltz; Sloan Lentfer, Grace Christian; Hayden Howard, Houston; Kellen Jedlicka, Grace Christian; Finn Gregg, Nome-Beltz; Bryce Tucker, Valdez.