When it comes to Class 1B boys basketball in Washington state, one team has dominated the state tournament the past two decades … and once again Sunnyside Christian is the favorite to win it all this year.
“Their tradition speaks for itself,” said Lummi Nation coach Jerome Toby, whose Blackhawks will be one of 11 other teams trying to knock the two-time defending state champion Knights off their throne. “They’ve hoisted that gold ball quite a bit.”
For previews of Lummi Nation’s first game and all the state tournaments involving our Whatcom County teams, be sure to keep checking www.whatcomhoops.com.
Toby knows what it takes, having hoisted the state championship trophy himself with the undefeated 2015 Lummi Nation team. But it’s hard to argue against Sunnyside Christian being the favorite.
First, there’s their tradition: Seven 1B state titles in the 12 years since the smaller schools were divided into the 1B and 2B classifications in 2007, and three others before that. In fact, in the 21st century, coach Dean Wagenaar’s Knights have won nine state championships in 18 years.
Second, there’s talent. With senior guard Lucas Dykstra providing the outside scoring and senior forward Ross Faber providing the inside game, the 23-1 Knights have pretty much destroyed all comers.
Sunnyside Christian’s only loss was to Yakama Nation Tribal School by three points, and that was no embarrassment as Lummi Nation found out when the Blackhawks lost to Yakama in regional play Saturday.
But Toby also knows that nothing is guaranteed: “This time of year, it’s anybody’s ball game. Ranking isn’t everything. At this level, all teams can play. All are well coached. And right now, I like my team.”
Although rankings often don’t tell the story, this year’s tournament has four of the top five seeded teams, including Sunnyside Christian and Lummi Nation, in the “top” bracket. Here’s a look at the 12 teams:
Sunnyside Christian (23-1): The top-seeded Knights have steam-rolled everyone and except for two close games against Yakama Nation, have never really been tested. But they’ll be tested at state with #2 Odessa, #3 Lummi Nation and #5 Muckleshoot Tribal all in the Knights’ bracket. Still, it’ll take an off night by the Knights and a great night by a contender to knock off the champs.
Yakama Nation Tribal School (17-8): Besides being a really good team with a stifling press and lots of scorers, the sixth-seeded Eagles have something else going for them — they are in the opposite bracket of Sunnyside Christian. Saturday’s final may be a fourth meeting between the two Yakima Valley powers.
Muckleshoot Tribal School (23-3): The fifth-seeded Kings proved they are a dangerous team by beating Tulalip Heritage, which handed Lummi Nation one of its only two losses. They have size, speed and experience, and their losses came to much bigger schools.
Almira-Coulee-Hartline (19-4): Despite having placed second at state last year, the seventh-seeded Warriors were kind of the forgotten team until they again defeated rival Odessa in regionals last weekend — making them the only team to beat the Tigers this season. Like Yakama, the Warriors are in the opposite bracket of Sunnyside Christian and they already own a victory over Yakama, their likely semifinal opponent.
Lummi Nation (22-2): The third-seeded Blackhawks are young with very little state experience and should they win their Spokane opener against Riverside Christian would face some pretty good teams and pretty long odds to reach the finals. But the Blackhawks’ youthful energy, frenetic style of play and veteran coaches who have been here before are just what they need to pull off the upsets.
Odessa (22-2): The second-seeded Tigers came into regionals with a great record, a great offense and great dreams of a championship showdown with Sunnyside Christian. But after losing to rival Almira-Coulee-Hartline on Saturday, now find themselves in the toughest bracket and will have their work cut out for themselves just to earn a trophy, any trophy.
Tulalip Heritage (20-5): The fourth-seeded Eagles may be flying under everyone’s radar, but they have the talent to surprise any of the teams on their side of the bracket. They also could go home without a trophy. It’s that kind of tournament.
Neah Bay (16-6): You have to feel for the Red Devils. Despite a solid team that might have a chance to reach the semis in the other bracket, they potentially would have to beat the #1, #2, #3 and #4 teams in the state to win the championship. That’s why they are a long shot.
Naselle (17-6): The eighth-seeded Comets stuck with Sunnyside Christian in regionals before losing by 18, and won’t face teams with that kind of talent in the lower bracket. So who knows? Maybe the Comets will sneak through to earn a trophy.
Oakesdale (17-7): The 12th-seeded Nighthawks are the lowest seeded team left. They’ve won eight of their last nine and have played some of the tougher 2B schools, but they would definitely be the Cinderella story should they make it to Friday night or Saturday.
Riverside Christian (16-5): The 11th-seeded Crusaders better have their A game right off the bat, because they’ll be facing a fired-up Lummi Nation team in the first round. A trophy would be a great accomplishment in this bracket.
Garfield-Palouse (17-8): The ninth-seeded Vikings lost four of their first six games, but ended the regular season winning nine of their last 10. Anybody in the lower bracket has a chance to trophy, but their season also could be over by Wednesday night.
CLASS 1B BOYS STATE TOURNAMENT
(With RPI seedings)
Regionals (Friday, Feb. 22)
#11 Riverside Christian 54, #14 Taholah 52
#7 Almira-Coulee-Hartline 60, #2 Odessa-Harrington 52
Regionals (Saturday, Feb. 23)
#6 Yakama Nation Tribal School 57, #3 Lummi Nation 48
#9 Garfield-Palouse 69, #16 Lopez 38 (loser out)
#1 Sunnyside Christian 57, #8 Naselle 39
#5 Muckleshoot Tribal 76, #4 Tulalip Heritage 65
#10 Neah Bay 80, #15 Pateros 58 (loser out)
#12 Oakesdale 51, #13 Concordia Christian Academy 41 (loser out)
At Spokane Arena
State play-in games (Wednesday, Feb. 27)
Lummi Nation (22-2) vs. Riverside Christian (16-5), 3:45 p.m. (loser out)
Odessa (22-2) vs. Neah Bay (16-6), 5:30 p.m. (loser out)
Tulalip Heritage (20-5) vs. Oakesdale (17-7), 7:15 p.m. (loser out)
Naselle (17-6) vs. Garfield-Palouse (17-8), 9 p.m. (loser out)
Quarterfinals (Thursday, Feb. 28)
Muckleshoot Tribal School (23-3) vs. winner of Lummi Nation vs. Riverside Christian, 3:45 p.m.
Sunnyside Christian (23-1) vs. winner of Odessa vs. Neah Bay, 5:30 p.m.
Yakama Nation Tribal (17-8) vs. winner of Tulalip Heritage vs. Oakesdale, 7:15 p.m.
Almira-Coulee-Hartline (19-4) vs. winner of Naselle vs. Garfield-Palouse, 9 p.m.
Consolation semifinals (Friday, March 1)
12:15 p.m. (loser out)
2 p.m. (loser out)
Semifinals (Friday, March 1)
Fourth-sixth place game (Saturday, March 2)
9:30 a.m. (winner fourth, loser sixth)
Consolation final (Saturday, March 2)
1 p.m. (winner third, loser fifth)
Championship game (Saturday, March 2)
5 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.