There are no guarantees when it comes to high school basketball state tournaments, but the closest thing in Washington state might be penciling in a Whatcom County team as Class 1A girls state champion.
In the past eight years, we’ve had six state champions and a seventh team finish second. In fact, last March, our two teams placed first and second.
And they’re back.
Top seed Nooksack Valley and two-time defending state champion and second-seeded Lynden Christian are crashing the 1A party again and by all consensus the Pioneers are the heavy favorites and LC is one of only a few teams given a chance to stop them.
But before they reach the Yakima SunDome, the Pioneers and Lyncs will open state play in the regional round in the familiar confines of Mount Vernon High School.
Check out Whatcom Hoops for previews of the Class 1B boys, 1A boys, 2A boys, and 2A girls state regionals.
Nooksack Valley will take on eighth-seeded Bellevue Christian, which comes in with an impressive 21-1 record, on Friday at 6 p.m. Then on Saturday at 4 p.m., Lynden Christian will face seventh-seeded Cashmere — yes, the same Bulldogs LC beat in the 2020 and 2018 state finals.
All four teams are guaranteed spots in the state tournament in Yakima, but the winners will advance to next Thursday’s quarterfinals and the losers will have to play loser-out games on Wednesday.
“Everyone who is here can play and everyone starts off 0-0,” said Nooksack Valley coach Shane Wichers of this weekend’s regionals. And his Pioneers? “We’ve had a great season, and we’re playing well right now.”
That would be an understatement. Nooksack Valley comes in 23-1, its only loss by two points to 4A state power Tahoma and with dominant wins over Lynden Christian (twice), third seed Montesano, and Class 2A powers Lynden and Burlington-Edison.
And the Valley, which has never won a girls state title, comes in with a chip on its shoulder having lost last year’s state final to the Lyncs by one in overtime.
“Getting as close as we did last year has motivated them this year,” said Wichers. “They’ve been really focused and want to win it.”
The Pioneers are led by all-state guard Devin Coppinger, who many consider the top junior in the state. But they are far from a one-girl team with senior sharp-shooter Hallie Kamphouse and junior Energizer bunny Lainey Kimball able to take over a game offensively and defensively, and senior Taylor Lentz adding veteran leadership.
As a team, they are tall, tough, and battle-tested.
Of course, so are their biggest rivals — the Lyncs, who come in with a 22-3 record, the only losses being to Nooksack and 4A state contender Eastlake. In fact, LC did something no one else has done this season: defeat Woodinville, the No.1-ranked Class 4A state favorite.
Lynden Christian has its own all-stater in sophomore guard Grace Hintz and experience in senior guard Demi Dykstra, who already has two state titles to her credit. But while Nooksack Valley returns almost all of last year’s state finalist squad, LC has a completely new look.
“Our kids will know what it feels like,” LC coach Brady Bomber said of the state experience. “But at the end of the day, there’ll be a lot of firsts for many of them. We just want to help them be the best they can be. You want to make sure they recognize this is special.”
Here’s a look at Nooksack Valley, Lynden Christian, and the 1A girls state tournament:
NOOKSACK VALLEY PIONEERS
Record: 23-1 (#1 seed)
Starters: Devin Coppinger, G, Jr., 5-10; Hallie Kamphouse, G, Sr., 5-9; Taylor Lentz, P, Sr., 6-0; Lainey Kimball, G/P, Jr., 5-10; Tana Hoekma, P, Jr., 6-0.
Reserves: Kaylee Anderson, G, Jr., 5-8; Ella Perry, P, Sr., 5-11; Kate Shintaffer, G, So., 5-7; Payton Bartl, G, Fr., 5-7; Grace DeHoog, P, Fr., 6-0.
Team preview: If there is a word to describe Nooksack Valley ever since last year’s disappointing last-second loss in the state championship game, it is “focused.” They don’t look ahead, they don’t dig up the past, they don’t worry about history. They focus on their next opponent and have left 23 of them in the dust. They still have to do it in Yakima, but this is a championship-caliber team with no weakness mentally or physically.
State outlook: The Pioneers are the team to beat and barring injury or catastrophe, only a great game by one of the two or three other contenders could prevent Nooksack Valley from hoisting its first gold ball. Of course, what did we say about there not being any guarantees?
Coach Shane Wichers: “The Northwest Conference for a 1A school is the toughest in the state. If you can get through, you’re battle-tested. We know that’ll help us in the long-term. But whoever is playing really well is going to win it.”
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN LYNCS
Record: 22-3 (#2 seed)
Starters: Demi Dykstra, G, Sr., 5-8; Reganne Arnold, F, Sr., 5-11; Taryn Herwerden, F, Sr., 5-9; Daisy Poag, G, Sr., 5-7; Grace Hintz, G, So., 5-8.
Reserves: Alexie Hagen, G, Sr., 5-6; Katrin Fay, G, Sr., 5-5; Andi Anderson, G, So., 5-9; Ella Fritts, G, Fr., 5-9; Tabitha DeJong, F, Jr., 6-1; Allison Shumate, F, So., 5-11; Danya Dykstra, G, So., 5-8.
Team preview: How many teams can turn over their entire starting lineup and repeat as state champs? The Lyncs did it last year, but even for the most storied girls basketball program in the state that may be asking too much. However, if Dykstra, Fritts, and Poag can take some of the scoring load off Hintz, tradition and a tenacious defense could put LC in the final again.
State outlook: Without a doubt, the Pioneers are favorites, but any of the next seven teams seem capable of playing Saturday and maybe even making a title run. Wapato’s run-and-gunners are scary, Montesano and Deer Park have shiny records, King’s and Cashmere have championship cultures hardened by strong schedules, and no one can ever overlook the Lyncs.
Coach Brady Bomber: “Nooksack is in a tier by themselves, but there’s a lot more parity in 2 through 11 than there has been. There’ll be a lot of good games in regionals and more teams capable of doing well. We’re just happy for our girls to be recognized as the second seed. It’s a by-product of their hard work.”
CLASS 1A GIRLS
Friday, Feb. 24
#1 Nooksack Valley (23-1) vs. #8 Bellevue Christian (21-1) at Mount Vernon High, 6 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#9 Freeman (18-5) vs. #16 Hoquiam (15-8) at West Valley (Spokane) High, 6 p.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
#10 College Place (20-3) vs. #15 Annie Wright (17-8) at Richland High, 6 p.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
Saturday, Feb. 25
#12 Seattle Academy (15-6) vs. #13 Seton Catholic (20-3) at Bellevue CC, noon (winner to state tournament, loser out)
#3 Wapato (22-1) vs. #6 Deer Park (20-2) at Davis High, 2 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#2 Lynden Christian (22-3) vs. #7 Cashmere (15-4) at Mount Vernon High, 4 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#4 Montesano (21-3) vs. #5 King’s (21-3) at Tumwater High, 4 p.m. (both to state tournament)
#11 Zillah (17-7) vs. #14 Sultan (13-9) at Davis High, 4 p.m. (winner to state tournament, loser out)
At Yakima SunDome
Wednesday-Saturday, March 1-4
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.