The Lynden Christian and Blaine boys basketball teams survived the Northwest Conference gauntlet, a district tournament, and loser-out playoff games, and for their efforts earned berths in the Class 1A state tournament.
They also were rewarded with big challenges in their state regional games this Saturday, Feb. 25.
For top-seeded Lynden Christian, the challenge is literally big as the Lyncs face an Overlake team with a huge front line at 6 p.m. at Mount Vernon High School.
For seventh-seeded Blaine, the challenge is physical and geographical as the Borderites face one of the tournament favorites, second-seeded Zillah, at 6 p.m. at Davis High School in Yakima or about three 3-point shots away from the 22-1 Leopards’ campus.
Check out Whatcom Hoops for previews of the Class 1B boys, 1A girls, 2A boys, and 2A girls state regionals.
Of course, both LC coach Tim Zylstra and Blaine coach Nate Sullivan know there are no easy paths once you get to state.
“Everybody now is good,” said Zylstra, whose Lyncs are the defending state champions and have been in the finals three of the past four state tournaments. “If you show up with your B or B-minus game, anyone can get you. You have to play well or it can go south really fast.”
Lynden Christian comes in with a 22-2 record, its only losses to Class 2A state contenders Anacortes and Sehome. But the Lyncs will be tested by an Owls team that is seeded eighth with a 16-7 record, including a victory over King’s, and features a front court of 6-foot-6, 6-5, and 6-3 all-league performers.
The Lyncs won’t be able to counter with that kind of height although they have their own 6-6 all-star post in junior Jeremiah Wright. What makes LC one of the tournament favorites is defensive quickness and the outside shooting of senior guards Tyler Sipma and Griffin Dykstra and junior Dawson Bouma.
For Sullivan, who is in his first year with the Borderites but was a long-time assistant with Class 2A state regular Anacortes, Saturday will be just the next challenge for his veteran squad.
“Any opponent is going to be good,” he said. “We know we’re going to Yakima. It’s a tough journey, and we’ve just got to get it done.”
And while Sullivan will be leading Blaine to state for the first time, it won’t be a new experience for many of the Borderites. Last season, Blaine reached state for the first time in 18 years, won an exciting regional contest, and got to play in the first round in the SunDome.
Leading the way for the Borderites have been their Big Three seniors — dynamic Matt Russ, sharp-shooting Carson Lehnert, and steady Lucas Smith — each of whom can go for 20 any night. What’s taken Blaine to the next level is the improvement of senior Ethan Koreski and junior Noah Tavis who give the Borderites even more firepower.
The good news for both Whatcom teams is that by virtue of their top eight seeding, they will again be advancing to the state tournament in Yakima’s SunDome win or lose on Saturday.
The difference is that Saturday’s winners will move directly to the quarterfinals and the double-elimination portion of the tourney starting Thursday, March 2. The losers, however, will have to play in a loser-out first round on Wednesday, March 1.
Here’s a look at both our teams and the 1A boys state tournament:
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN LYNCS
Record: 22-2 (#1 seed)
Starters: Tyler Sipma, G, Sr., 6-0; Griffin Dykstra, G, Sr., 6-1; Dawson Bouma, G, Jr., 6-0; Lane Dykstra, G, Sr., 6-2; Jeremiah Wright, F, Jr., 6-6.
Reserves: Dexter Zylstra, G, Sr., 5-11; Braden Kuik, F, Sr., 6-4; Isaac Paxton, G/F, Sr., 6-1; Treven Blair, G/F, Jr., 6-2; Luke Van Kooten, G, So., 6-1; Boyce Robertson, G, Fr., 5-11.
Team preview: With only two returning starters from last year’s state champs, it appeared to be a rebuilding year at LC. But Sipma and Griffin Dykstra provide one of the top backcourts in the state and with the emergence of Wright inside and Bouma outside, and Lane Dykstra’s steady leadership, LC is once again a contender. They’re not big, but they are tough and play defense with the usual Lyncs tenacity.
State outlook: LC, Zillah, and fifth-seeded King’s are once again favorites — and what’s new? The three have won all but one state title since 2012. But unlike past years, there are other favorites, including a dangerous Annie Wright squad, and a whole bevy of teams capable of breaking up the Big Three. Translation: Expect a wide-open tournament.
Coach Tim Zylstra: “You start over (as defending state champs). You can’t rely on what you did last year to win this year. Anybody in the top 11 can win it. We want to play hard and defend. I like to rely on that even if you don’t shoot well.”
Record: 16-7 (#7 seed)
Starters: Matthew Russ, F, Sr., 6-4; Carson Lehnert, G, Sr., 6-3; Lucas Smith, G, Sr., 6-3; Ethan Korseki, F/G, Sr., 6-3; Noah Tavis, F, Jr., 6-4.
Reserves: Lawrence Creasey-Pulphus, F, Sr., 6-0; Alex Censale, G, Sr., 5-10; Josh Audette, G, Sr., 5-10; Conner Dalry, F, Jr., 6-4; Beckum Bleazard, G, So., 6-1; Josiah Weeda, G, So., 6-2; Jesse Deming, G, Jr., 5-10.
Team preview: The starters are all 6-3 or 6-4, play Northwest Conference defense, and can shoot the 3. They also are veterans who have been there and done that, which means the bright lights won’t bother them. Handling Zillah and its fullcourt pressure will be key to the regional, but Blaine is a team looking to bring home a trophy and you don’t want to bet against these Borderites.
State outlook: Unlike past tournaments where you could almost pencil in the top two teams, this year appears to be almost anyone’s tourney. Look for the usual suspects (LC, Zillah, King’s) but don’t be surprised if at least one newcomer and possibly more are playing for the gold ball.
Coach Nate Sullivan: “We got a top-eight seed, which is what we wanted. It’s a big accomplishment. We’re excited right now for the opportunity. We’re pumped. The top three are very good teams. We’ll see some good games.”
CLASS 1A BOYS STATE REGIONALS
Friday, Feb. 24
#11 Seattle Christian (15-6) vs. #14 Seton Catholic (17-7) at Auburn High, 6 p.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
Saturday, Feb. 25
#10 Seattle Academy (13-9) vs. #15 Elma (12-8) at Bellevue CC, 10 a.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
#12 King’s Way Christian (15-8) vs. #13 LaSalle (15-9) at Battle Ground High, 10 a.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
#9 Omak (16-5) vs. #16 Lakeside (9 Mile) (13-10) at Wenatchee High, noon (winner to state tournament, loser out)
#3 Annie Wright (22-1) vs. #6 Toppenish (18-5) at Tacoma CC, 2 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#1 Lynden Christian (22-2) vs. #8 Overlake (16-7) at Mount Vernon High, 6 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#2 Zillah (22-1) vs. #7 Blaine (16-7) at Davis High School, 6 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#4 Freeman (20-2) vs. #5 King’s (17-5) at West Valley High (Spokane), 8 p.m. (both to state tournament)
At Yakima SunDome
Wednesday-Saturday, March 1-4
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.