1A Girls: Nooksack Beats Deer Park To Repeat As State Champion

With the game on the line, with your season on the line, with the state championship on the line … who do you want on the line?

For the Nooksack Valley girls basketball team the answer is Devin Coppinger, who sank four straight free throws in the final 16 seconds to give the Pioneers a thrilling 70-67 victory over Deer Park and a second straight Class 1A state title on Saturday night, March 2.

Making it even sweeter for coach Shane Wichers was doing it in front of a packed Yakima SunDome that was filled with purple-and-white clad Valley faithful.

“It’s surreal,” said the 27-year coach. “It’s hard for me to look up in the stands because I get so emotional. Look at this … the incredible support they give these girls. Our community  is phenomenal.”

For the latest game stories and photos from all our state teams, keep checking Whatcom Hoops throughout the day.

“It feels great,” said Coppinger, who earned tournament MVP honors for the second year in a row after scoring 27 points in the championship game. “To win it twice — what a way to go out as seniors.”

It was the Pioneers’ four seniors — Coppinger, Lainey Kimball, Tana Hoekema, and Kaylee Anderson — who led Nooksack Valley to its best season ever, a 26-1 campaign that included Northwest Conference and District 1 titles.

And after being proclaimed one of the best teams in the state regardless of classification, many assumed the 1A state title would easily follow.

But someone forgot to tell Deer Park. The second-seeded Lady Stags had not tasted defeat in their 26 games this season and after nipping Lynden Christian in the semifinals, they wanted nothing more than to knock off another Whatcom power.

So despite giving up several inches at every position, Deer Park came out firing up 3-pointers and before you can say ‘what’s a stag?” the Stags had burned Nooksack’s proud defense for 23 first-quarter points and built up an 11-point lead midway through the second period.

“They shot the lights out,” said Wichers of Deer Park going nine of 14 on 3-point attempts in the first half. “But we battled back and made some big stops.”

And some big baskets. To counter the Stags’ bombers, the Pioneers unleashed their own: Anderson. The senior shooting guard had her biggest night on the biggest stage, making six of nine 3-pointers for 18 points.

“After making my first one, I knew it would be a good night,” she said. “We knew it would be a tough game. But in the last three minutes of the second quarter, we came out with a fire.”

Nooksack Valley cut Deer Park’s big lead down to five by halftime and down to two going into the fourth quarter. But even with momentum on their side, the final period was no — pardon the pun — walk in the park for the Pioneers.

The state’s two best 1A teams battled back and forth with the lead changing hands eight times and the score tied seven times. And with one minute to go, the score was tied at 64. Sixty seconds separated glory from agony.

Which means it was Coppinger time.

The all-state guard drove to the hoop to give Nooksack a two-point lead, but Deer Park countered with the last of their 13 3s to go up by one with 25 seconds left. So Coppinger drove again and this time was fouled.

Swish, swish, and the Pioneers led, 68-67, with 16 seconds left.

Deer Park had one last chance for the historic upset and let their best player, freshman Ashlan Bryant, try to win it. But her shot was off the mark and when Nooksack got the ball into Coppinger’s hands again, all the Stags could do was foul with 3 seconds left and …

Swish, swish.

A final heave was not even close, which meant there would be no Stag party … only a purple celebration for the second straight year in the SunDome.

When asked if she was nervous at the line, Coppinger smiled. “Not really. It was just me and the hoop. I just had to put it in.” But wasn’t she a bit nervous when the Pioneers were so far behind? Out comes the smile again. “We just had to keep it interesting.”

Interesting and historic. The Pioneer are the 10th Class 1A team to win multiple titles in a row. And while all 12 girls had a part in the school’s second state championship, the telling of the legendary 2024 title will always start with the Class of 2024.

Coppinger would finish with 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists — not to mention going nine of 10 from the line in one of the most pressure-packed situations a teenager can be thrown in. For her efforts in all three games, she was named the tournament MVP.

Kimball would collect 15 points and 7 rebounds; Hoekema, who was named to the all-tournament second team,  added another 6 rebounds; and Anderson had her six bombs for 18 points.

“I’ve been playing with them for the last 12 years,” Anderson said of her three teammates and friends. “So it was really special to win our last game together.”

“They are relentless,” Wichers said of his seniors. “They worked so hard for this. To be only the 10th team to win back-to-back … that will be their legacy.”

TOURNAMENT NOTES I: For Deer Park, there were only tears on Saturday, although Stag fans won’t be crying for long since the team has no seniors and their freshman star scored 20 points in the 1A state title game. Of course, that probably won’t happen again any time soon since Deer Park is expected to move up to 2A next year.

TOURNAMENT NOTES II: The WIAA does not sanction all-tournament teams, but the media and tournament staff sometimes vote on it. The 1A girls all-tournament first team is Devin Coppinger, Nooksack Valley (MVP), Grace Hintz, Lynden Christian; Ashlan Bryant, Deer Park; Trin Wheeler, Wapato; Kaleo Anderson, King’s. The second team is Tana Hoekema, Nooksack Valley; Brianna Talley, Cashmere; Kobe Johnson, Wapato; Avery Haff, Lakeside; Brooklyn Coe, Deer Park; Rylee Darnold, Lakeside.

Nooksack Valley   14       20       16       20—70

Deer Park              23       16       13       15—67

Nooksack Valley: Lainey Kimball 15, Kate Shintaffer, Payton Bartl, Chayleigh Davis, Devin Coppinger 27, Tana Hoekema 4, Kaylee Anderson 18, Alayna Dykstra 4, Grace DeHoog 2.

Deer Park: Olivia Gannon, Brooklyn Coe 17, Berlyn Zimmerer 5, Raigan Coolbaugh 4, Ashlan Bryant 20, Kaitlyn Scott 8, Emma Bryant 13.


At Yakima SunDome

Wednesday, Feb. 28

Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) 59, Montesano 35 (loser out)

Seattle Academy 52, Bellevue Christian 49 (loser out)

King’s 53, Eatonville 40 (loser out)

Cashmere 47, Toppenish 30 (loser out)

Thursday, Feb. 29

Wapato 69, Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) 64

Nooksack Valley 60, Seattle Academy 22

Lynden Christian 63, King’s 50

Deer Park 68, Cashmere 38

Friday, March 1

Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) 61, Seattle Academy 45 (loser out)

Cashmere 63, King’s 55 (loser out)

Nooksack Valley 66, Wapato 55

Deer Park 43, Lynden Christian 42

Saturday, March 2

#6 Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) (22-6) 52, #9 Cashmere (21-7) 39 (winner fourth, loser sixth)

#3 Lynden Christian (20-8) 72, #5 Wapato (23-4) 64 (winner third, loser fifth)

#1 Nooksack Valley (26-1) 70, #2 Deer Park (26-1) 67 (winner first, loser second)

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

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.

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