1A Girls State Preview: Meridian Taking Its Place Among Top Teams

Maybe it’s time to stop painting the Meridian girls basketball team as the underdogs and remind any doubters that despite the seventh-seed, the Trojans are already in the Class 1A state tournament quarterfinals.

And if they keep playing as they have been in their late-season run, then they are looking at bringing home some hardware … maybe some very impressive hardware.

The Trojans (19-5) begin their quest for the state championship trophy on Thursday at 2 p.m. in Yakima’s SunDome against an opponent to be determined Wednesday when King’s and Medical Lake play a loser-out contest.

“We’re healthy, several of the girls are here for the third year in a row, and we’re peaking at the right time,” said Meridian coach Mark Gilmore. “We feel we’re right in the mix. They’re ready to roll.”

For previews of the 1A state tournament and all the state tournaments involving our Whatcom County teams, be sure to keep checking www.whatcomhoops.com.

In years past, the Trojans would have worn the scrappy “underdog” title proudly, trying to escape the shadow of the state championship programs at Lynden Christian and Lynden.

But not this year. Meridian has become one of the “big dogs,” knocking off both the Lyncs and the Lions this year, and then proving again they belong among the best in the state by pummeling second-ranked Bellevue Christian in the regionals last Saturday.

Here’s a look at the Trojans and the teams they might face on Thursday:

Meridian opponents’ scouting report: Eighth-seeded King’s (20-6) and ninth-seeded Medical Lake (18-6) are a contrast in style. The Knights are bigger and like the halfcourt game; the Cardinals have some size but like to push the pace and play pressure defense. Meridian has faced King’s the past two years in the playoffs and beaten them both times. Medical Lake has many of the players back from last year’s team that reached the semis, but didn’t really find its rhythm until it won 12 of its last 13. Call it a toss-up. 

Meridian scouting report: Junior center Jolee Sipma (14 points and 7.5 rebounds a game) is the focal point on offense and inside force on defense. But this is a balanced team that can run the floor, shoot the 3, and plays really, really good defense. Senior Lindsey Moore (12.5 points and 5 rebounds a game) and junior wing Makenna Holz (8 points a game) provide veteran leadership, senior guard Lexi Groen is a great defender and an emotional sparkplug, and freshmen guard Finnley Claeys and center Skyleigh James have quickly matured into key contributors both offensively and defensively.

Coach Mark Gilmore: “If we play our best game, there isn’t a team we can’t play with. We’ve been tested in league and in the playoffs. We’re really happy where we are.” 

Game outlook: The way the game goes depends on who Meridian plays. If it’s King’s, expect a low-scoring battle much like the Trojans’ game with Bellevue Christian. If it’s Medical Lake, expect it to be up and down the court with 3-pointers flying. But the Trojans can play either kind of game so expect the same result: a Meridian victory and barring any upsets, a third showdown with Lynden Christian for a place in the state championship game.

CLASS 1A GIRLS STATE TOURNAMENT
(With RPI seedings)
Regionals (Friday, Feb. 22)
#1 LaSalle 50, #8 King’s 27
#4 Cashmere 47, #5 Elma 34
#9 Medical Lake 42, #16 King’s Way Christian 31 (loser out)
#10 Freeman 62, vs. #15 Connell 42 (loser out)
#13 Overlake 44, #12 Granger 33 (loser out)

Regionals (Saturday, Feb. 23)
#3 Lynden Christian 77,  #6 Annie Wright 59
#7 Meridian 40, #2 Bellevue Christian 26
#11 Zillah 64, #14 Montesano 41 (loser out)

At Yakima SunDome
State play-in games (Wednesday, Feb. 27)
Zillah (18-6) vs. Annie Wright (20-4), 9 a.m. (loser out)
Freeman (18-5) vs. Bellevue Christian (21-3), 10:30 a.m. (loser out)
Overlake (18-4) vs. Elma (21-3), 12:15 p.m. (loser out)
Medical Lake (18-6) vs. King’s (20-6), 2 p.m. (loser out)

Quarterfinals (Thursday, Feb. 28)
Cashmere (21-2) vs. winner of Zillah vs. Annie Wright, 9 a.m.
LaSalle (24-0) vs. winner of Freeman vs. Bellevue Christian, 10:30 a.m.
Lynden Christian (21-3) vs. winner of Overlake vs. Elma winner, 12:15 p.m.
Meridian (19-5) vs. winner of Medical Lake vs. King’s, 2 p.m.

Consolation semifinals (Friday, March 1)
9 a.m. (loser out)
10:30 a.m. (loser out)

Semifinals (Friday, March 1)
3:45 p.m.
5:30 p.m.

Fourth-sixth place game (Saturday, March 2)
8 a.m. (winner fourth, loser sixth)

Consolation final (Saturday, March 2)
11:15 a.m. (winner third, loser fifth)

Championship game (Saturday, March 2)
3 p.m. (winner first, loser second)

(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.