The Nooksack Valley girls basketball team won six of seven playoff games, earned itself a top-eight seeding, and guaranteed the Pioneers a spot in the Class 1A state tournament.
What else did they get for all their hard work? A first-round game against the No.1-ranked team with the No.1-ranked player in the state if not the country.
And you know what? The Pioneers don’t mind.
Eighth-seed Nooksack Valley (20-6) will take on top-seed Cashmere (21-0) in the regional-round of the state tournament on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Wenatchee High School.
“We know we’re the underdog, but we have nothing to lose,” said Nooksack Valley coach Shane Wichers. “We’ll go and compete and see what happens. We believe we can win.”
Well, the Pioneers already have played their share of top-ranked teams already, including the No.1 Class 2A team (Lynden), No.2 Class 1A team (Lynden Christian) and No.2 Class 2B team (La Conner) as well as playoff teams Ferndale, Burlington-Edison and Meridian.
With only one senior — guard Kora Larsen — Nooksack Valley already has accomplished more than expected. The inside play of junior post Jenna Compton and the backcourt play of Larsen and junior Maya Galley have put the Pioneers among the 1A elite.
“Being as young as we are, it’s pretty fun getting to regionals,” said Wichers. “It’s a great accomplishment.”
But the Pioneers’ strength all year has been their defense, which will be tested by high-scoring Cashmere and super guard Hailey Van Lith, the state’s all-time leading girls basketball scorer, University of Louisville recruit and YouTube sensation.
“Obviously, Hailey is an incredible player, but it’s not a 1-on-5 game, it’s a 5-on-5 game,” said Wichers. “We’re battle tested, too. We’re playing good basketball right now and that’s the goal: to be playing the basketball at the end.”
Fortunately, win or lose, Saturday’s game won’t be the end for Nooksack Valley. By finishing in the top eight of the state’s RPI rankings, the Pioneers are guaranteed a spot in the Yakima SunDome next week.
If Nooksack Valley wins Saturday, it would get a bye into the second round at state on Thursday, March 5, for a 5:30 p.m. game. The Pioneers would play the winner of a Wednesday game between the Okanogan-Meridian winner and the Lynden Christian-Annie Wright loser.
Should the Pioneers lose Saturday, they would play the Cascade Christian-Zillah winner on Wednesday, March 4, at 9 p.m..
NOOKSACK VALLEY PIONEERS
State seeding: #8, No.3 seed from Bi-District 1/2
Starters: Kora Larsen, G, Sr., 5-9; Tehya Moore, G, So., 5-3; Maya Galley, G, Jr., 5-8; McKenna Wichers, F, So. 5-10; Jenna Compton, F, Jr., 5-8.
Reserves: Hallie Kamphouse, G, Fr., 5-9; Ellie Van Berkum, G, So., 5-5; Renae Hoekema, F, So., 5-7; Taylor Lentz, F, Fr., 6-0.
CLASS 1A GIRLS STATE TOURNAMENT
Friday, Feb. 28
#2 Lynden Christian vs. #7 Annie Wright, 8 p.m., at Mount Vernon
#4 Freeman vs. #5 La Salle, 8 p.m., at West Valley (Spokane)
Saturday, Feb. 29
#3 Warden vs. #6 King’s, noon, Big Bend CC in Moses Lake
#11 Seattle Academy vs. #14 Montesano, noon, at Issaquah
#12 Elma vs. #13 Deer Park, noon, at Tumwater
#10 Okanogan vs. #10 Meridian, 2 p.m., at Wenatchee
#9 Zillah vs. #16 Cascade Christian, 4 p.m., at Davis HS in Yakima
#1 Cashmere vs. #8 Nooksack Valley, 6 p.m., at Wenatchee
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.