One is the best team. The other has the best player. And that’s why LaSalle and Cashmere will be the co-favorites when the Class 1A girls basketball tournament tips off Wednesday at Yakima’s SunDome.
The top-ranked and undefeated Lightning of LaSalle return all their top players from last year’s third-place squad and have mowed down everyone they’ve face this year with the exception of …
Cashmere, which has almost everyone back from last year’s team that came within one shot of winning state, including all-everything super guard Hailey Van Lith.
“Cashmere and LaSalle are the two best teams,” said Lynden Christian coach Brady Bomber, who knows good teams since his third-ranked Lyncs return most of the players from the team that beat Cashmere in last year’s state championship squad.
“I don’t know how many teams can beat them. They’re far and away the favorites.”
For previews of the Lynden Christian and Meridian girls’ first games and all the state tournaments involving our Whatcom County teams, be sure to keep checking www.whatcomhoops.com.
Interestingly, Cashmere and LaSalle faced off on Dec. 28, with the Lightning winning by two at home.
But because of the way the state’s RPI seeding worked, Cashmere somehow ended up ranked fourth. That means if the Lightning and Bulldogs win their Thursday quarterfinal games, they would meet in the semifinals not the championship game.
Which is a break for the two Whatcom County squads, who are in the opposite bracket. But those two squads are no slouches.
Lynden Christian is playing its best ball at the right time, having beaten all its playoff foes by double-digit margins. And seventh-seeded Meridian already has beaten both Lynden Christian and the second seed, Bellevue Christian, in the past month.
And should LC and Meridian win their openers Thursday, they would meet in the other semifinal.
The good news for Whatcom County hoop fans is that would mean at least one local team would be in the championship game. But the bad news is only one could make it that far.
“There’s a lot of good teams,” said Meridian coach Mark Gilmore. “LC, Cashmere and LaSalle finished 1-2-3 (last year), so you look at that again. But you don’t want to have a down night over here.”
Here’s a look at all 12 teams:
LaSalle (24-0): The top-seeded Lightning live up to their nickname by shocking opponents with their devastating press and powerful offense. They have only one girl over 5-10, but 6-2 sophomore center Trista Hull has blossomed into a scoring force. Since their 49-47 victory over Cashmere, no team has come within 19 points and most games are over by halftime.
Cashmere (21-2): The fourth-seeded Bulldogs are more than just a one-person team; it just happens that person is the best player in the state regardless of classification. Van Lith has taken Cashmere to within one shot of winning the past two state titles, and with a young team improving through the season, this could be the Bulldogs’ year.
Lynden Christian (21-3): The third-seeded Lyncs might not be THE favorite this year as they have been two of the past three years in winning state titles. If it’s possible, they’re somehow being forgotten. But over the years, LC seems to thrive when it isn’t the favorite. Isabela Hernandez and Riley Dykstra are returning stars, but it’s been the improvement of Grace Sterk and the young bench that makes them a threat to win it all again.
Meridian (20-5): The seventh-seeded Trojans might look out of place in the quarterfinals with the other three blue bloods. But trust us, these Trojans are tough, tested and ready to prove they belong. Jolee Sipma is a legit star and veterans Lindsey Moore and Makenna Holz seem to play big in the biggest games. A run to the championship game is not out of the question.
Bellevue Christian (21-2): The second-seeded Vikings were brought down to earth by a 14-point loss to Meridian in the regionals. They are still tall (three girls over 6-foot) and talented, but they struggle against quick teams — and guess who they would face if they win Wednesday? The quickest of teams: LaSalle.
Elma (21-3): The fifth-seeded Eagles are not to be taken lightly. But if they get past Overlake on Wednesday, Elma will have to run the Whatcom County gauntlet of Lynden Christian and Meridian, and few teams play defense like the Northwest Conference plays defense. A trophy, however, is definitely a possibility.
Medical Lake (18-6): The ninth-seeded Cardinals, despite having most of the players back, aren’t the same team that came into last year’s state semifinals unbeaten. When their best player transferred, they struggled through a rough patch of four straight losses. Since then, they’ve won 13 of their last 14, and they’re still big with five players over 5-10, so they’ll be shooting for another trophy.
King’s (20-6): The eighth-seeded Knights would probably get the “toughest schedule” award having played LaSalle twice, Cashmere, Lynden Christian, top-ranked 2A Lynden and 4A Moses Lake. But the Knights lost to all of them. With only two seniors, King’s will be looking to trophy and get experience for next year.
Overlake (18-4): The 13th-seeded Owls can cause matchup problems with a 6-5 center, and they played Lynden Christian, Bellevue Christian and even Lynden tough. But as the lowest seed remaining, they will have to play at a higher level just to be around Friday for the trophies.
Zillah (18-6): The 11th-seeded Leopards have been thumped by both LaSalle and Cashmere, but they’ll play their usual high-energy, Yakima Valley run-and-press game before their home crowd. They may not earn a trophy, but they’ll be fun to watch especially against Annie Wright.
Annie Wright (20-4): The sixth-seeded Gators will feature two dynamic young players, sophomore Julianna Walker and freshman Jazmyn Stone. Somehow, with those two scoring 90 percent of their points, the Gators have won 20 games and could find themselves in the quarterfinals against Cashmere. An upset seems unlikely, but Walker and Van Lith in a shooting contest? Priceless.
Freeman (18-5): The 10th-seeded Scotties aren’t the powerhouses like their 2010 and 2011 state championship teams, but give them credit for continuing the legacy. Still, with No.2 Bellevue Christian on Wednesday and, if they win that, No.1 LaSalle on Thursday, the young Scotties will be glad to just stick around Yakima until Friday.
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.