High School Sports

Older and wiser, Grace Christian girls advance to another state 3A title game

After winning the school’s first girls basketball state title last year, the Grace Christian Grizzlies knew this year would be different.

But if its first two games at the Alaska 3A state tournament are any indication, the team is older, wiser and perhaps even better.

The Grizzlies broke open a close game in the third quarter, going on to top Monroe Catholic 36-24 in the semifinals Thursday at Alaska Airlines Center.

Junior Ella Boerger scored 12 points Thursday and said the team has learned from the experiences dating back to last season, when as a group of mostly underclassmen secured the state title.

“The maturity has had a lot to do with it,” she said. “We’ve grown as people and as athletes.”

Grace led for the entire first half, taking a 7-0 lead and boasting a slim 15-12 halftime lead. When Monroe Christian scored the first basket of the third quarter, the Grizzlies’ lead had all but evaporated.

But Grace Christian went on an 11-2 run to end the third quarter establishing a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter.


“Sometimes we try to go too fast,” Boerger said. “I think just kind of making sure we’re being deliberate about getting a good shot and a good look at the hoop.”

Junior Sophie Lentfer led all scorers with 16 points and also had a game-high seven rebounds.

The team returned its entire roster in 2023-24 and still only has one senior on its team.

“Sophie and I have played together since we were 10, we were fourth-graders,” she said. “It’s been fun with the whole group of girls to get on this journey together.”

Although the Grizzlies went through offensive droughts, they made up for it with consistent defense. The Rams shot just 30% from the floor and didn’t have a player reach double-figures in scoring.

Relentless Barrow girls run past Mt. Edgecumbe

Kiara Burnell admits there is a lot of personality on the Barrow girls basketball team. On the court, that personality can often manifest itself in enthusiasm and tenacity.

That was the case in Thursday’s 3A semifinals as the Whalers used a relentless approach to top Mt. Edgecumbe 58-45 to advance to the championship game.

“Never a dull moment,” joked Burnell, a 5-foot-1 senior guard.

Barrow used a fast-paced style to often turn rebounds or turnovers into layups.

“We’re a fast team,” she said. “We’ll spend an hour and 30 minutes of a 2-hour practice on conditioning.”

First-year head coach Nicole Smith said relentlessness has been a feature of Barrow’s winning teams going back decades.

“That’s how I’ve always played,” Smith said. “When I played at Barrow, my coach, Jordyn Danner, had us running up and down the floor. I think that’s what led us to be so successful. That’s a huge part of the game of basketball, being in shape and being able to last four quarters.

“In tight games like these, in tough competitive games, it really plays a big part.”

Barrow got out to a quick lead but Mt. Edgecumbe battled back and only trailed 28-24 at halftime. Braves guard Carliese O’Brien, who led all scorers with 19 points, had 10 in the first half.

But the Whalers continued to push the pace in the third quarter and continued to grow their lead. Burnell led the team with 14 points and Aiga Unutoa added 12. Barrow had great depth with nine players scoring.

Mt. Edgecumbe may have been able to crawl back into the game, but was unable to find its range on its many 3-point attempts. The Braves were just 1-for-18 in the first half from beyond the arc and 3-for-37 on the game.

Barrow, the tournament’s top seed, has three losses this year including two from top teams in 4A: Colony and Mountain City Christian Academy.


“We’ve had a really good season,” Smith said. “We’ve had a tough schedule and we’ve played some of the best in the state. That’s really helped us build resilience and a family-like environment. So we’re used to it. It’s really helped us to have our crowd here as well supporting us, win or lose. They’re here for us every time.”

After finishing fifth last year, the senior-laden team is looking to return Barrow to the title. The Whalers last won it all in 2022.

“I feel like we have something to prove,” Burnell said said. “We just had the drive to win.”

3A Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center





Mt. Edgecumbe 75, Homer 39

Monroe Catholic 56, Bethel 25

Barrow 74, Sitka 48

Grace Christian 56, Valdez 19



Sitka 60, Homer 32

Bethel 38, Valdez 36


Grace Christian 36, Monroe Catholic 24

Barrow 58, Mt. Edgecumbe 45




Sitka vs. Bethel, 9:30 a.m. (Main court)


Third place

Monroe Catholic vs. Mt. Edgecumbe, 9 a.m. (Main court)


Grace Christian vs. Barrow, 1 p.m. (Main court)

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.