Despite a shortened-season, having to wear masks, limiting the number of fans at games, and missing both injured stars and state playoffs, the 2021 basketball season still had a lot of highlights.
So, after covering all 22 Whatcom County boys and girls teams at least once and getting feedback from coaches and fans alike during the season, here are the 2021 Best of Whatcom Hoops end-of-the-year awards.
Most Valuable Player (Girls)
ANNA VANDERYACHT, Lynden
The senior guard was the ultimate dual threat. On offense, she averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in running the Lions’ offense. And she was even better on defense, where she could shut down the opposing team’s best player — no matter what position.
But what made VanderYacht even more valuable was her leadership, which held the young pride of Lions together through a difficult season that still saw them go into the final week of the season with a chance at the league title.
“She’s one of the best defenders I’ve seen in many years,” said Lynden coach Aaron Bogaard. “It takes a special player to get after it defensively game after game, and the Lions will miss that as we move forward.”
Most Valuable Player (Boys)
LOGAN DYKSTRA, Lynden Christian
In a year with many potential MVPs, Dykstra wasn’t the top scorer, even on his own team. But no one combined outstanding play on both offense and defense while giving one’s all for the team like the senior post who guided the Lyncs to the “mythical” Northwest Conference title.
He averaged 15.5 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal a game, but what cemented his award was his inspiring game with rival Lynden. Despite having to guard another MVP candidate, 6-foot-11 Liam Hanenburg, and being exhausted the entire final period, the 6-5 Dykstra not only was the game’s leading scorer but hit both free throws with three seconds left to seal the victory.
“In a season of unknowns, Logan came ready to work,” said LC coach Tim Zylstra of the only starter back from last year’s Class 1A state runner-up squad. “He lead by example and came up big in all our big games.”
Most Inspirational Player (Girls)
ALAYLA SOLOMON, Lummi Nation
Lots of seniors are the glue that holds their teams together, but Solomon finished as the only senior on a team comprised of almost all sophomores and freshmen. In addition, she stayed on the team when other classmates quit during the season and helped the team get through a coaching change and a community tragedy.
“She is a very great kid on and off the court, and not having her on the team next year will be a bummer because of the positivity and energy she brought,” said Blackhawks coach Sarah Tom. “She was and will continue to be a great role model for our younger players on the team.”
Honorable mention: Petra Allred of Mount Baker and Grace Schroeder of Squalicum. The best returning players for their teams were injured and missed the whole season (except for one play: see “Best Moment” below). But they weren’t missing when it came to cheering for and supporting their teams from the bench all season long.
Most Inspirational Player (Boys)
ALEX CLAWSON, Nooksack Valley
The Nooksack Valley senior only got about seven minutes of playing time a game, but coach Rich Skillman described his attitude as amazing and said Clawson was willing to do whatever was needed for the team and whatever the coaches asked.
“He’s the best teammate we have had go through our program,” said Skillman. You can’t beat that for a compliment.
Honorable mention: Jazen Guillory of Ferndale. One of the league’s top players also missed the whole season with an injury, but despite hobbling on crutches, he was the team’s vocal and inspirational leader all season long.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN GIRLS
The Lyncs were the only county boys or girls team to finish undefeated, and they did so in impressive fashion, beating their Northwest Conference foes by an average of 37 points and knocking off two of their toughest Class 1A rivals — La Salle and King’s — on the road.
With almost everyone back from last year’s 1A state championship team, there’s no doubt if there were a state tournament, the Lyncs would have been favored to win their third title in four years. And if they were to pull that off, a case could be made that they were one of Lynden Christian’s best teams ever … and that’s saying a lot.
ALL 22 COACHES
Who do you pick for coach of the year? One who won a league title? One who got the most out of a team with less talent??
The answer in this chaotic and crazy COVID season is … every coach, because all of them deserve to be coach of the year. Not only did they get their teams through this frustrating season, but their devotion to their players taught young men and women life lessons in both good times and bad times.
So here are your coaches of the year: Darcie Hill and Brad McKay (Bellingham), Ryan Pike and Brett Farrar (Blaine), Terri Yost and Jason Owens (Ferndale), Sarah Tom and Jerome Toby (Lummi Nation), Aaron Bogaard and Brian Roper (Lynden), Brady Bomber and Tim Zylstra (Lynden Christian), Vic Wolffis and Shane Stacy (Meridian), Ken McLendon and Ben Zakheim (Mount Baker), Shane Wichers and Rich Skillman (Nooksack Valley), Anye Turner and Skyler Gillispie (Sehome), and Ray Ootsey and Tyler Hannigan (Squalicum).
For all you’ve done for our student athletes — and for all your encouragement and help with Whatcom Hoops — I want to give you all a big “THANK YOU!”
LYNDEN VS. LYNDEN CHRISTIAN BOYS
It’s hard to beat a rivalry game that is for a league championship (unofficial though it may be) and which comes down to the final shot, but that’s what we had on June 16.
In an emotional see-saw affair that saw Lynden rally from 10 points down in the first half and LC rally from seven points down in the fourth quarter, it all came down to the final minute. Senior Shale Whittern’s only basket of the game gave LC the lead, and Dykstra’s two free throws with three seconds left made it a 3-point margin.
And when Jordan Medcalf’s halfcourt shot just missed at the buzzer, the Lyncs had held on for a 51-48 victory. To read all about it and see lots of photos and some video, click on LC Boys Top Lynden.
KADANCE’S HALFCOURT GAME-WINNER
Could there be any other choice? Even Meridian coach Vic Wolffis admitted that in his 30-plus years of coaching basketball, he’d never had a player sink a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to win a game.
That’s what Kadance Blankers did on May 28. With the Trojans down by one to Ferndale and less than three seconds left, the junior guard got the inbounds pass, took a couple of dribbles and then tossed up a 3-point shot from halfcourt right before the buzzer sounded …
That fell through the basket and gave Meridian a 49-47 victory over the previously unbeaten Golden Eagles. Wow! (And a big thank you to Jeremy James for permission to use his video.)
I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING
There were two special moments, both involving girls whose serious injuries kept them from playing all season long. Until …
The first was senior Petra Allred, Mount Baker’s all-league center. On the Mounties’ Seniors Night on May 24, she suited up, and in an arrangement between Baker coach Ken McLendon and Mount Vernon coach Bill Nutting, was allowed to score the first basketball uncontested. The Mounties, of course, returned the favor so the game started tied at 2.
It would be the last basket — and maybe the most meaningful basket — of her outstanding Mount Baker career.
“It was really emotional, knowing my team is here for me,” she said. “Coach showed how he cares for us as people, not just players. And they (her teammates) have been there for me, just like I’m going to be there for them.”
Then on June 15, Squalicum coach Ray Ootsey did the same thing for senior Grace Schroder, who suffered a season-ending injury during soccer.
At first Schroder wasn’t sure — “she said, ‘Sure, I don’t know, maybe,’” recalled Ootsey — but after arranging with Lynden Christian coach Brady Bomber, Schroder suited up and scored the Storm’s first basket of the game.
“We just think it’s the right thing to do for any athlete in our area,” said Ootsey, adding that Schroder has been “wonderful” despite everything that has happened.
When the popular senior was announced in the starting lineup on Squalicum’s Seniors Night and then made a layup to tie the game after the Lyncs’ uncontested bucket, the student section exploded in cheers.
“Most of our players grew up playing with her and gave her hugs after the basket,” said Bomber. “Watching all of that, it’s obvious that she is a special young lady who has made a positive impact on the people around her.”
Honorable mention: On Seniors Night, a school will honor its own seniors and their parents. But at the Lynden-Lynden Christian girls game on June 17, LC’s seniors also took time to honor the four Lynden seniors who were playing their final high school game by giving them flowers. Very classy.
THE FRESHMAN GIRLS
Our seniors were the most affected by all the COVID restrictions and deserved the spotlight this season. For a list of each team’s seniors, be sure to check out the Week 6 Girls Recap and the Week 6 Boys Recap.
But there was one group that come out of nowhere to make a surprisingly big impact this season: the girls’ freshman class. It seemed like every team had at least one that started or played significant minutes.
So be watching in the coming years as you see more of future stars such as Nooksack Valley’s Devin Coppinger, Squalicum’s Mari Binning, Lynden’s Kalanie Newcomb and Haylee Koetje, Mount Baker’s Lauren Valum, Blaine’s Deja Dube and Alia Ball, and Sehome’s Madi Cooper.
NO STATE TOURNAMENTS
We probably could have put up with the masks, the limitations on fans, even the shortened spring season … if they’d just given us some playoffs, specifically state tournaments.
Playoffs are when players and teams create the most vivid and lasting memories. Playoffs are the reward for all the hard work put in during both the season and the offseason. Playoffs are what bring teams together to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
This year was especially disappointing for several teams that were loaded with talent and loaded with seniors.
The Lynden Christian girls could have added another state championship banner to their wall of fame. The Nooksack Valley girls were playing as well as any Class 1A team in the state when the season ended. (The Pioneers did, however, cut down the nets for fun after completing a “state tournament” run to finish off the season. Click on Nooksack Valley Girls Cut Down Nets to see the story.)
The Lynden boys and girls, the Sehome boys, the Meridian boys and girls, the Lummi Nation boys, and the Ferndale boys — and maybe others — could have brought home state trophies if given the chance.
Best Cheer Staff
ALL 11 OF THEM
Sometimes we fans forget the effort, time and talent it takes to be high school cheerleaders, so let’s give them all a big cheer, especially this year when they, too, had to cram a whole season into five-plus weeks.
While the high-flying cheer squads often get our attention, there were two fun moments of role reversals that we managed to witness in person: the Lynden girl cheerleaders lifting up the boy cheerleaders, and the Blaine cheerleaders giving their cheer advisers flowers at the final home game.
Honorable mention: While the cheer staffs at 10 of our 11 high schools supported both their boys and girls teams, one school’s didn’t — Lummi Nation. That’s because three of the cheerleaders — almost half of the squad — were on the girls team. Now that’s school spirit.
ALL OF YOU
OK, you didn’t think we were going to pick favorites did you?
Despite the COVID restrictions and disappointment of not being able to see all the games — not to mention the lack of playoff games — it was still impressive to see students and families alike supporting their favorite teams game after game.
The standing ovation by the fans of both teams at the end of the Blaine-Lynden boys game summed up how all of us feel about our student athletes and their coaching staffs. They all deserve a standing ovation … and so do all of you.
Thank you for all the 2021 memories and for supporting Whatcom Hoops this season.