Last year, Whatcom County sent three teams to the Class 1A girls basketball state tournament, and even though each was hit hard by graduation, it’s no big surprise that all are back in the playoffs with their sights set on the SunDome.
If there is a big shock to anyone who lives outside of the Laurel area, it is the order that they will enter the District 1 tournament on Monday, Feb. 4.
The Meridian Trojans will be the Northwest Conference’s top seed and will open at home against Granite Falls, the North Sound League’s No.4 team, at 7:45 p.m.
Defending state champion Lynden Christian, the NWC’s No.2 team, also will play its first-round game at home at 7:45 p.m. against North Sound No.3 Coupeville.
And Nooksack Valley, the NWC’s third seed, will travel to North Sound runner-up Cedar Park Christian of Bothell for a 7:45 p.m. game.
The rest of the county’s teams begin their district tournaments next week. Check with www.whatcomhoops.com for previews of the Class 1A boys playoffs (starts Monday), 2A boys (Wednesday), 2A girls (Thursday), 3A girls (Wednesday) and 3A boys (Thursday).
All three county teams are in the top 25 in the state’s RPI rankings — Lynden Christian is fourth, Meridian eighth and Nooksack Valley 23rd — and they will look to continue the county’s tradition of taking three of the four spots into the District 1/2 bi-district tournament, which starts on Feb. 13.
North Sound champion King’s of Seattle, which is rated ninth, is the other squad favored to advance to the bi-district tourney.
“Since I’ve been here, it’s been the best district in the state,” said coach Mark Gilmore, who is in his sixth season at Meridian and who has taken the Trojans to state the past two years. “This year isn’t going to be any different. It’s going to be a mini-state (tournament).”
Surprising Meridian Riding High, Looking For More
The Trojans (17-4) come in to district on an emotional high after handing LC a 54-47 loss last week, the Lyncs’ first defeat to a 1A school in two years and Meridian’s first win over their rivals in Gilmore’s six years.
“We’re extremely excited,” he said. “This is a great group of girls. They’ve stepped up and improved as the year’s gone on.”
Leading the Trojans is standout junior center Jolee Sipma — “our first legitimate post in a long time,” according to Gilmore — and seniors Lindsey Moore, Alexis Groen and Makenna Holz. It is the senior trio who assumed the leadership role after Meridian graduated half of last year’s state team.
“They (the seniors) have a bond,” said Gilmore. “Last year’s group blazed the path. But these girls have gone to state. We coaches talked about it right after state, and said we will be a lot better than people think.”
Tested Lynden Christian Looks To Bounce Back
The Lyncs (17-3) dropped three of their final five games, but with most of last year’s state championship team returning and a history of bringing home state trophies (13 straight top-four state finishes, including four state titles since 2006), the Lyncs are still dangerous.
They are led by two returning starters — senior forward Isabela Hernandez, who has already signed to play with Division I San Diego State, and junior guard Riley Dykstra.
Senior forwards Grace Sterk and Liv Mellema also return to a squad that features four players 5-foot-10 or taller and is blessed with a deep bench.
“If we play well, if we play our best basketball, we can compete with everybody,” said LC coach Brady Bomber. “We’re excited for the post-season opportunity. The girls get excited for February.”
Young Nooksack Valley Not To Be Overlooked
With Meridian and Lynden Christian getting most of the attention around the state, it might be easy to overlook the young Pioneers (13-7), who only have one senior on the squad. That is until you find out the Pioneers have a victory over Meridian to their credit … something league champion Lynden and Lynden Christian can’t say.
“If you can make the post-season in the Northwest Conference, that’s saying something,” said Nooksack Valley coach Shane Wichers. “I tell the kids, you’re not going to see anything (in the playoffs) we haven’t already seen in this league. We’re battle-tested.”
The lone senior, guard Jenna Tenkley, is the team’s floor general and joins junior guard Kora Larsen as the only starting returnees from last year’s state team. The other starters include sophomores Maya Galley and Jenna Compton, and freshman McKenna Wichers.
“We’ve grown a lot with so many young kids in so many new roles,” said Wichers. “You can’t rush experience. But we’re starting to know what we want to do offensively and defensively.”
CLASS 1A DISTRICT 1 GIRLS TOURNAMENT
First-round games (Monday, Feb. 4)
Nooksack Valley (13-7) at Cedar Park Christian (12-6)
Granite Falls (5-14) at Meridian (17-4)
Coupeville (8-9) at Lynden Christian (17-3)
Sultan (7-13) at King’s (16-4)
(Full schedule and bracket at nwcathletics.com)
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.