All the successful girls athletic teams at Kenai Central High School over the past couple of years seem to have at least one common denominator: In some way, shape or form, Karli Knudsen figures into them.
The two-time Region III champion cross country running team? While Knudsen wasn't leading the pack, she was still among the Kardinals top seven runners, helping Kenai as best she could in the team standings.
The girls basketball team, which has earned two consecutive trips to the state tournament? That was Knudsen, hitting a pair of free throws with nine seconds to play to secure a two-point win over Bartlett in the fourth-place game of this year's state tournament.
And the Kenai girls soccer team, which is looking to make its third straight trip to the state tournament? There's Knudsen running up front, always in just the right spot at just the right time to play a perfect centering pass or take a crack at goal herself.
"I coached her middle school, and even as an eighth grader, I saw she had that ability to score goals," said Kenai girls soccer coach Dan Verkuilen. "I called her The Weasel because she always found a way to sneak a foot in and get a goal."
"He's called me a bunch of stuff," Knudsen said of Verkuilen's penchant for nicknaming every player he coaches. "He has a lot of nicknames for everyone."
Still, Knudsen has been a huge part of the Kardinals' success on the soccer pitch. A senior and second-year captain, Knudsen will be moving from her wing position and filling a central striker role with this year's team.
"It'll be nice for me," said teammate Jamie Montgomery. "I'm right behind her (at center midfielder), so we'll be playing close. I have some chemistry with her. It'll be nice to have some give-and-go's with her."
As important as her skills on the field are to her team, so is her personality in the huddle, during practice and off the field.
"She always picks up other people -- that's one of the reasons she's a captain. She seems to be everybody's friend," Verkuilen said. "She doesn't exude cockiness, even though she's confident. She knows she has to work hard for what she does, and expects the rest of the team to work hard, too."
The biggest payoff for that hard work is on the basketball court, where Knudsen consistently hit her outside shots, but had no problem taking it to the hole when the opportunity presented itself this season for Kenai.
Knudsen said she started playing basketball with the Boys and Girls Club around third grade, and has been hooked on the sport ever since.
"I've been playing for as long as I can remember," Knudsen said.
The success of this year's campaign will add to her memories, she said.
"It was nice to end the season with a win. There's not many teams that do that, especially at the state tournament," Knudsen said.
Knudsen has yet to sink her last free throw, though. She has plans to attend Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., and continue her basketball career with the Plainsmen. Knudsen said her high school experience with coach Jim Beeson should be good preparation for whatever college hoops throws her way.
"Beeson is so intense, and he knows what he's talking about. If I play in college and my coach yells, I'll be used to it," Knudsen said.
Knudsen said Beeson's emphasis on fundamentals also will help her down the road.
"He focuses a lot on fundamentals and defense," Knudsen said. "My defense has improved because he stresses it so much."
Those fundamentals have come in handy on the home court, where Knudsen has competition from her older sister Kristi, now a sophomore at Black Hills State in South Dakota.
"When Kristi comes home, we play," Knudsen said. "We're pretty even, and they're fun games. If I win, I rub it in a lot."
Knudsen's mother, M.K., is a teacher at Sears Elementary. Knudsen's oldest sister, Jody, a senior at Montana State, picked up cross-country skiing from her father, Dave, a teacher at Mountain View Elementary School. Knudsen said winter temperatures kept her in the gym.
"I like playing basketball inside, where it's warm," Knudsen said.
Knudsen said she plans to stay in the athletic arena in the classroom as well. Her favorite class at Kenai Central has been strength training, and she plans to study physical education or athletic training in college.
Knudsen has a 3.45 grade point average, and is a member of the student council, the National Honor Society and the Interact Club, a community service organization. Knudsen also is the president of the senior class.
"It's good being busy -- it keeps you out of trouble," Knudsen said.
If that's true, Knudsen has never had to worry about getting into trouble, and athletics has become the logical release for all that energy.
"We've been playing sports together ever since we were little kids at Mountain View," Montgomery said. "Karli and I even went to a football camp in seventh grade, so we've always been playing with the boys.
"She was always such a tomboy when we were little kids. It seems like her dad was always taking us fishing, or playing games out in the yard."
In fact, just being outside is part of the reason Knudsen has stuck with soccer and cross country. Though she's a gym rat during the basketball season, she said she couldn't wait to get on the grass this spring.
"We're in the gym for six months for basketball, then soccer starts and I'm excited to be outside, and we're stuck in the gym for another month," Knudsen said.
While the Kardinals finally have had a chance to play outside, Knudsen will be right back in the gym when the season ends, preparing herself for the challenges of college basketball.
"During soccer season, Verkuilen doesn't want me to play as much," Knudsen said. "Once soccer's over, I'll be in the gym a lot this summer.
"I'm just going to play basketball as long as I can."
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