The 2022 basketball season tipped off last December with uncertainty because of COVID’s scary shadow, but it ended with a historic night when three of our teams were crowned state champions.
And in between there were lots of highlights that made this one of the most exciting and memorable seasons for the players, coaches, and fans.
So, after covering all 22 Whatcom County boys and girls teams at least twice and getting feedback from many of you during the season, here are the 2022 Best of Whatcom Hoops end-of-the-year awards.
Co-Players of the Year (Girls)
LIBBY STUMP, Lynden Christian, and DEVIN COPPINGER, Nooksack Valley
How can you decide between the two most dominant Class 1A players not only in Whatcom County but in the state? You can’t, so you let these two friends share the honor as co-most valuable players.
Even as a sophomore, Coppinger is one of the most complete players in the state regardless of classification averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 3 steals a game.
She can dominate a game offensively or defensively all by herself, but what makes her elite is that she also made her teammates better, which the point guard did in driving the Pioneers to the state championship game.
“Devin’s ability to score from different places and different ways on the court is a testament to all the work she has put in,” said her coach, Shane Wichers. “She is a relentless competitor who has extremely high standards for herself. She is a joy to coach and a wonderful teammate and person.”
But how can you not honor Stump, a senior guard who put an inexperienced squad on her back and carried them to the state championship? She averaged 19.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists a game while shooting 58 percent from the field, 43 percent from 3-point range, and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
The University of Montana commit will be remembered for her state finals heroics (see “Shot of the Year” below), but she did that game in and game out for the Lyncs.
“Libby has represented Lynden Christian with class and humility,” said her coach, Brady Bomber. “While she is a very special basketball player, I believe her greatest quality is her character. I am so proud of Libby and will miss coaching her.”
So let there be no argument because the two of them were without a doubt the best.
Player of the Year (Boys)
ANDREW HOMMES, Lynden Christian
Hommes was one of the most talented players in the league who at 6-foot-6 was a matchup nightmare because of his ability to score inside with a variety of moves or hit consistently from the 3-point line and beyond.
The Point Loma Nazarene University commit averaged 18 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1 block, and 1.4 steals a game while shooting 60 percent from the field.
But what made the senior forward the most valuable player was his competitiveness, which inspired the Lyncs to compete at the highest level against some of the best teams in the state. He was never afraid to take the big shot or cover another all-stater, which helped drive the fearless Lyncs to the Class 1A state title.
“He has led this team from the first day of practice to the last day of practice,” said his coach Tim Zylstra. “His work ethic and leadership have been a true blessing to this team. He has shown the younger boys how to be a great teammate, and we’re going to miss him a lot.”
Most Inspirational Player
SEAN MORRISON, Ferndale
The senior guard’s story has not only inspired his teammates but the whole basketball community — how he played nearly half the season with a serious brain disease and even after leaving to have brain surgery, how his courage, boldness, confidence, and smile helped inspire the Golden Eagles to finish off their historic season.
To have his teammates wear his number on their warmup jerseys with the words “more than a number, more than a game” and to place his jersey on the bench as a reminder that he was still part of them even while he was hospitalized were reminders of the impact one player can have on a team.
“His senior season was partially taken from him, but never once did his teammates see him complaining or down,” said his coach, Jason Owens. “His inspiration allowed his teammates to overcome their adversity on the court and freed them up to play for him and each other. His story was a reminder that it is so much more than just wining and losing. It is about going on a journey as players and teammates.”
Honorable mention: Alli Van Kooten, Lynden Christian, and Kaelee Bungard, Ferndale. The two seniors were counted on to be key contributors for the Lyncs’ and Golden Eagles’ playoff drives. Unfortunately, late-season injuries forced them to the bench, where they still managed to cheer and lift up their teammates.
Team(s) of the Year
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN BOYS
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN GIRLS
If you want to get picky, the LC boys won the Northwest Conference championship, but the Lynden boys won the matchup between city rivals. So, let’s not get picky and just say that the Lyncs and Lions were the two best Whatcom County boys teams and, as they proved in Yakima, the two best teams in the state.
As for the girls, by the slimmest of margins — one point in the last six seconds of overtime — we’ve given the edge to Lynden Christian over the equally outstanding Nooksack Valley girls team.
What made the accomplishments of all three teams even more extraordinary was that at the beginning of the season, none of them would have been predicted to win state titles. The Lynden boys and LC girls were too inexperienced and the LC boys had too much competition.
Yet at the end of the season, all three were holding up the golden ball.
Coach of the Year
JASON OWENS, Ferndale
Confession time: This is the hardest award to give out. Why? Because all 22 head coaches and their staffs deserve to be honored (which is what we did last year).
How do you not reward the coaches of state championship teams or coaches who took their teams to the playoffs when it wasn’t expected or coaches who made it a fun season even if there were only a few victories on the court? Let’s be honest and say we are thankful to have 22 great coaches.
However … there was only one coach who took a team that lost one of its best players even before the season began, saw his squad suffer through a 1-7 start, lost two more starters to injury and illness during the season, and somehow infused in them the belief that they could still reach their dream …
And then, helped them reach that dream by qualifying for state for the first time in 26 years. That’s what Owens did with the Golden Eagles, and why he is our coach of the year.
Game of the Year
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN-NOOKSACK VALLEY GIRLS III
There were some incredible games during the regular season including the Blaine boys’ historic win over Lynden, the Lynden boys’ thrilling victory over Lynden Christian, the LC boys’ last-second win over Burlington-Edison, and the Blaine girls’ buzzer beater over Squalicum.
Then who can forget the playoff excitement of the Blaine boys’ win over Wahluke or the Lynden Christian boys stunning state semifinal win over Life Christian and come-from-behind finals upset of King’s?
But the last game of the season proved to be the best because it not only was between our two best (the Lyncs and Pioneers) for the top prize (the Class 1A state title) but it lived up the the hype by going down to the wire in overtime no less. There was drama, emotion, and two great teams playing their hearts out.
Which leads us to …
Shot of the Year
LIBBY STUMP’S GAME-WINNER
There were other great shots: Lynden’s Dawson Adams’s corner 3 that beat LC, Will Caldwell’s 3 at the buzzer at Burlington that kept the LC boys unbeaten, Blaine’s Krystin Kamrath’s last-second 3 that beat Squalicum, Scott Baldwin’s driving layup against Wahluke that sent the Blaine boys to Yakima …
But again, nothing compares to the shot that determined who would win the state title, which is pretty much what Stump’s jumper did. Make it and the Lyncs win their second state crown in a row; miss it and the Pioneers win their first-ever state crown.
With all the pressure in the world and all the pressure the Nooksack Valley defense could muster, Stump still sank the “shot heard ‘round the state.”
For the game story and photos, click on Game of the Year.
INJURIES, INJURIES, EVERYWHERE
For some reason, it seemed like more teams that usual were struck by serious injuries, some even before the season began.
All-stars Isaiah Carlson of Ferndale, Maris Baklund of Meridian, and Kalani Newcomb of Lynden were a few of the players who never even got on the court this season.
Then there were a number of stars who were hurt or missed much of the season, including seniors Ava Lunny of Sehome, Van Kooten of Lynden Christian, Jesse Sapp and Morrison of Ferndale, and Bungard of Ferndale.
Let’s hope we don’t see this kind of injury list again.
HIGHS, LOWS, AND EVERYTHING IN-BETWEEN
Not being at every game, it’s hard to pick the single best moment for all 22 teams. But there certainly were some special ones.
When it comes to pure joy, you could go with either Lynden Christian state championship games, both of which came down to the last seconds. It also was fun to see the family connections between the two teams.
There also was Lynden’s state championship celebration, which was a little more reserved because the overpowering Lions made sure the championship game wasn’t close. And if you want regular-season crazy, the Blaine boys beating Lynden for the first time in a generation was pretty exciting.
Ferndale had its share of emotional moments with Morrison being recognized on senior night and the last two girls and boys regular-season games being played in the Ferndale gym before it is torn down as part of the new high school.
And being an old softie, I’m tempted to go with the Nooksack Valley girls after their heart-breaking loss in the state title game. The compassion and class the Pioneer fans showed their team when the girls came out of the SunDome locker room was inspiring.
But once again, let’s acknowledge everybody and say that the best moments came during the Coaches vs. Cancer games that each of our squads participated in. As someone whose family has suffered through cancer, I find it incredible to have so many people show their support each year.
One of those great stories was Sehome senior Isaac Lawrence, whose mother, Jennifer, is battling the disease and how the Mariners rallied around their family.
Although we all love the victories, trophies, and state titles, it is the love we show each other that makes Whatcom County such a great basketball community to be part of.
Thank you one and all.
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.