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Led by Sophie Lentfer, Grace Christian girls are primed to repeat as 3A state champs

Mar. 20—After making a name for herself as a sophomore as one of the main catalysts for success during the Grace Christian High School girls basketball team's first-ever state championship run, Sophie Lentfer was on everyone's radar heading into her junior season.

That included talent evaluators nationwide, as she was named the 2023-24 Gatorade Player of the Year for Alaska last week.

"I was excited just to be considered, and to win was an even cooler opportunity," Lentfer said.

Lentfer's primary focus right now is to do everything in her power to help propel the Grizzlies to a successful title defense at the 3A state championship tournament this week.

"We're excited and have been preparing for this since the beginning of the season," Lentfer said. "It's our goal and what we've been working towards. I think we're definitely ready to play some good competition in that environment."

It's incredibly rare for a reigning state championship team in any sport to be able to bring the entire roster back for another run. But that's exactly the situation No. 2-seeded Grizzlies find themselves in after having a roster of mostly sophomores and freshmen last year.

"We didn't lose anybody, so we have pretty good chemistry and a couple of us have even been together since elementary school," Lentfer said. "We're all really close and I couldn't have made it through the season without these girls."

The Grizzlies aren't overlooking any potential opponent, but they're especially aware of the threat that teams like No. 1 seed Barrow, No. 3 seed Monroe Catholic and No. 4 seed Mt. Edgecumbe present.

"We tell them that every game we go into, there's a bull's-eye on our back," said Grace Christian assistant coach Jeff Lentfer, who is also Sophie's father. "Everyone wants to beat Grace Christian and if they beat us, that's (the highlight) of their season. There's no easy games because we're getting the best of everybody."

The Grizzlies are undefeated against 3A competition this year but lost twice to defending 4A champ Mountain City Christian Academy and 4A title contender Wasilla.

Sophie Lentfer, the reigning 3A Player of the Year, has tremendous respect for the bevy of talented female high school basketball players around the state. She's rare as a Gatorade honoree who didn't come from 4A.

"It's a great opportunity for me to inspire younger kids to work hard and let them know that the smaller schools can get recognized," Lentfer said.

She initially found out about the announcement via an Instagram post by her travel team coach, but it didn't truly sink in until she came downstairs that morning and her mom greeted her with: "Good morning, Gatorade Player of the Year."

3A Girls Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center

Wednesday

Quarterfinals

No. 4 Mt. Edgecumbe vs. No. 5 Homer, 8 a.m. (Auxiliary gym)

No. 3 Monroe Catholic vs. No. 6 Bethel, 11 a.m. (Auxiliary gym)

No. 1 Barrow vs. No. 8 Sitka, 12:30 p.m. (Main court)

No. 2 Grace Christian vs. No. 7 Valdez, 6:15 p.m. (Auxiliary gym)

Thursday

Consolation

Loser Barrow/Sitka vs. Loser Mt. Edgecumbe/Homer, 10:30 a.m. (Auxiliary)

Loser Monroe Catholic/Bethel vs. Loser Grace Christian/Valdez, 10:30 a.m. (Main court)

Semifinals

Winner Monroe Catholic/Bethel vs. Winner Grace Christian/Valdez, 3:15 p.m. (Main court)

Winner Barrow/Sitka vs. Winner Mt. Edgecumbe/Homer, 4:45 p.m. (Main court)

Friday

Consolation

4th/6th place, 9:30 a.m. (Main court)

Saturday

3rd/5th place, 9 a.m. (Main court)

Championship, 1 p.m. (Main court)