High School Sports

Kenai Central girls top Anchorage’s Grace Christian in opening round of state soccer tournament

PALMER — Sarah Baisden’s 2023 state soccer tournament ended with disappointment. Her Kenai Central team’s undefeated season was snuffed out by rival Soldotna, which won the state title in a 3-2 double overtime shootout.

And after missing a penalty kick during the championship, the junior was left with a clear motivation heading into the summer.

On Thursday, Baisden’s offseason work was realized. She scored two goals in the first half, including one on a penalty kick, to push Kenai to a 3-0 win over Grace Christian in the opening round of the 2024 Division II girls soccer tournament.

“This season I’ve really focused on my PKs,” she said. “That moment was really special, because I had to make sure I got that in.”

Last year, Kenai Central was 18-0 entering the championship game with Soldotna. This year’s team is 15-2-1, the tournament’s No. 2 seed and wary of the type of letdown that stung the Kardinals in last year’s championship.

“We are really motivated,” Baisden said. “There are a lot of words to describe us — confident, ready. We’re back to get it. We’re here for the title.”

Baisden scored her first goal on a crossing pass which she stopped and put a good shot on goal.


The Kardinals were able to make it 3-0 in the second half with a corner kick that was knocked home by senior Kylee Verkuilen. Despite getting the only tally of the half, Kenai Central was under regular pressure from Grace Christian, which had some nice scoring chances.

“The biggest key is coming out strong and not underestimating the other team no matter what,” Baisden said. “We did that in the first half. In the second half, we kind of died down and you could tell, because they jumped on us.”

At the boys Division II level, two-time defending state champion Juneau-Douglas returned as the top seed and had its hands full in topping Homer 3-1.

With the game tied 1-1 with time ticking away in the second half, Juneau-Douglas Kai Ciambor shocked the Mariners and thrilled the crowd with an electric goal to give the Crimson Bears a 2-1 lead.

The junior midfielder pushed the ball down the left side, pulled off a spin move, cut to the middle of the pitch and pushed a shot into the lower right corner of the net.

“The game was pretty close, and I knew that somebody needed to step up, and I just wanted to be the person,” Ciambor said.

Ciambor credited Juneau-Douglas coach Gary Lehnhart for training the team “to the best of our abilities and he pushes us every single day to make us the best players that we can be.” But he also admitted Lehnhart may have viewed the move as a bit superfluous given the circumstances.

“Sometimes it gets frowned upon,” he said. “It’s a little like, unnecessary, but it’s fun to pull it out every once in awhile.”

Homer struck first 25 minutes into the first half as Reid Rauch threw a shot on goal from the right corner. Juneau-Douglas goalie Alex Mallott got his gloves on it but couldn’t bring it in.

But Juneau-Douglas got it right back within a minute of that goal, knotting it at 1-1 after Ahmir Parker found the back of the net.

“That was huge,” Ciambor said. “We have this thing called ‘five hard’ where no matter what the instance, if we score or the other team does, we go hard for five minutes.”

The final goal, a putback on the doorstep by Caden Johns put the game away for the Crimson Bears. But Ciambor said the game was a valuable lesson learned for a team looking for a third straight title.

“I think we did get a little ahead of ourselves coming into this tournament, but nothing is easy and we’ve got to earn everything,” he said.

Alaska State Soccer Tournament

Division I boys soccer

Thursday’s results

First round

No. 6 Dimond 1, No. 3 West Valley 0


No. 1 South Anchorage 7, No. 8 Lathrop 0

No. 2 Colony 4, No. 7 Chugiak 1

No. 4 West High 1, No. 5 Service 0

Division I girls soccer

Thursday’s results

First round

No. 2 Dimond 4, No. 7 Chugiak 0

No. 5 Colony 2, No. 4 Service 1


No. 1 South Anchorage 9, No. 8 West High 0

No. 6 Lathrop 2, No. 3 West Valley 1 (shootout)

Division II boys soccer

Thursday’s results

First round

No. 3 Ketchikan 2, No. 6 North Pole 1

No. 2 Juneau-Douglas 3, No. 7 Homer 1

No. 1 Soldotna 11, No. 8 Kodiak 0

No. 4 Palmer 2, No. 5 Kenai Central 1

Division II girls soccer

Thursday’s results

First round


No. 4 Homer 2, No. 5 Monroe Catholic 0

No. 3 Soldotna 4, No. 6 Ketchikan 1

No. 2 Kenai Central 3, No. 7 Grace Christian 0

No. 1 Juneau-Douglas 5, No. 8 Palmer 0

Chris Bieri

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