1A Girls Regional Preview: Meridian, Bellevue Christian In Rematch

It’s deja vu all over again for the Meridian girls basketball team as it takes on Bellevue Christian in the Class 1A state regionals Saturday at 2 p.m. at Issaquah High School.

Except this time, the Trojans are looking for a different outcome.

It will be a rematch of their Dec. 18 game, which Bellevue Christian won, 50-49, at Meridian. It was a victory that confirmed the Vikings were for real and, as part of their 16-game winning streak to start the season, propelled them to a 21-1 record and the No.2 ranking.

For previews of all the state regional games involving our Whatcom County teams, be sure to keep checking www.whatcomhoops.com.

Meridian, however, is no longer an underdog, having notched impressive victories over state powers Lynden,  Lynden Christian and Gig Harbor. A three-game slide in mid-January dropped them to the seventh-seed, but the young Trojans (18-5) come into the state tournament battle-tested and ready to prove themselves.

The winner of Saturday’s game will advance into the state quarterfinals in Yakima’s SunDome on Thursday, Feb. 28. The loser also will advance to Yakima, but will have to play a loser-out game on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Here’s a look at both teams:

Meridian coach Mark Gilmore

Bellevue Christian scouting report: The Vikings are senior-dominated and are hungry to return to Yakima after being knocked out in the regional round last year. They are led by the Mollys — 6-foot-1 all-around athlete Molly VandenBrink, and 6-3 post Molly Olson. VandenBrink can play every position and averages 14 points a game; Olson is the inside force averaging close to a double-double in points and rebounds. Although not a particularly quick team, the Vikings’ height can be intimidating in a halfcourt game.

Meridian scouting report: A case could be made that the Meridian girls are the biggest surprise in the Northwest Conference (and Mark Gilmore deserves a few votes for coach of the year). Despite losing six seniors off last year’s state team, the Trojans have come back even better thanks to the outstanding play of junior center Jolee Sipma (14 points and 7.5 rebounds a game), the senior leadership of Lindsey Moore (12.5 points and 5 rebounds a game), and the scrappy all-around play of junior wing Makenna Holz (8 points a game).

Coach Mark Gilmore: “We feel the conference we play in is the strongest 1A/2A league in the state. It doesn’t matter if you have four or five losses coming out out of our conference. We’re excited to play,  and we’re happy we’re peaking at the right time of the year.”

Game outlook: This will be a big test — literally — for Meridian, but the Trojans have passed every test so far this year … even against the best in the state. When it comes to game strategy, the key for Meridian will be playing up-tempo and using its quickness to wear down the Vikings. But the outcome may be decided by how well the younger Trojans handle the pressure, and so far this season, they have answered the call.

CLASS 1A GIRLS STATE TOURNAMENT
(With RPI seedings)
Regionals (Friday)
#1 LaSalle (23-0) vs. #8 King’s (20-5) at Ellensburg High School, 6 p.m.
#4 Cashmere (20-2) vs. #5 Elma (21-2) at Wenatchee High School, 6 p.m.
#9 Medical Lake (17-6) vs. #16 King’s Way Christian (16-7) at West Valley (Spokane) High School, 6 p.m. (loser out)
#10 Freeman (17-5) vs. #15 Connell (17-6) at West Valley (Spokane) High School, 6 p.m. (loser out)
#12 Granger (16-7) vs. #13 Overlake (17-4) at Davis High School, 8 p.m. (loser out)

Regionals (Saturday)
#3 Lynden Christian (20-3) vs. #6 Annie Wright (20-3) at Mount Vernon High School, noon
#2 Bellevue Christian (21-2) vs. #7 Meridian (18-5) at Issaquah High School, 2 p.m.
#11 Zillah (17-6) vs. #14 Montesano (15-9) at Davis High School, 4 p.m. (loser out)

(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.

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