It wasn’t a state championship … but in this COVID-crazy year, it might have been the next best thing.
The Nooksack Valley girls basketball team completed their “state tournament” with a 61-48 victory over Ferndale and celebrated by cutting down the nets in front of their overjoyed fans on Saturday night, June 19.
“We treated it like it was state,” said Pioneers coach Shane Wichers of the team’s final four games. “We had four quality opponents. That was our focus this week. It’s silly (cutting down the nets), but we wanted to give them an important memory. It’s the best we’re going to get.”
In a season with a late start, a shortened schedule and no post-season, a real Class 1A state tournament was out of the question. But Nooksack Valley’s final 12-1 record, its 10-game winning streak, and its impressive performance this week proved the Pioneers would have been lifting up some hardware had they been in Yakima.
In their “state tournament” run, Nooksack dispatched three Class 2A powers — Lynden on Monday, Sehome on Thursday, and Burlington-Edison on Friday — by 15, 26 and 11 points, respectively. On Saturday night, it was Ferndale’s turn.
The Golden Eagles, however, were no sitting ducks. Although the Class 3A squad finished the season at 5-6 overall and in the NWC, two of the losses were on last-second shots. And for the first two and half quarters, Ferndale gave Nooksack Valley all it could handle.
But then it was Devin Coppinger time. The 5-foot-10 freshman guard only had two buckets in the third period, but got the Pioneers’ running game going as Nooksack Valley put up 21 points in the quarter to stretch a two-point halftime lead to 10.
Then she made two more baskets and all four of her free throws in the fourth quarter to keep Ferndale at bay. She finished with a game-high 21 points.
“This team is so unselfish,” Coppinger said. “It’s about the team’s shot not our shot. We want to use each other’s talents. And when we put it together, we do well.”
Saturday night, as usual, Coppinger got a lot of help on offense. Sharpshooting sophomore Hallie Kamphouse had 11 points, including three 3-pointers, and senior Maya Galley and junior McKenna Wichers had 9 points each.
But more importantly, the Pioneers’ pressure defense contested every Ferndale shot and held the Golden Eagles to their third lowest point total of the season.
“We ran out of gas,” said Ferndale coach Terri Yost. “Nooksack is a good team. We just got tired. And a lot of teams drop off when they go to the bench. But Nooksack doesn’t drop off.”
Coach Wichers also saw the Pioneers’ depth and ability to shut down Ferndale as the difference.
“Our defense got better in the second half,” he said. “Then Devin took over. She can score anywhere. But she looks for her teammates.”
Ferndale junior Kaelee Bungaard continued her outstanding late-season performances with a team-high 12 points. Sophomore Cailyn Kessen and junior Hannah Barlean both hit three 3-pointers for 9 points each. Sophomore Ellie Ochoa also had 9 points, and senior Jamie Johnson had 7.
With only two seniors on each squad, good times appear to be ahead. But neither coach wanted to look too far in the future.
Ferndale will lose seniors Johnson and Josie Cline, and Yost said their leadership will be missed.
“We just had our banquet and celebrated the season,” said the Ferndale coach. “We told them (the seniors), ‘Great job.’ And we thanked them for the legacy they left for the younger kids.”
Nooksack Valley’s two seniors — Maya Galley and Jenna Compton — have been the veterans of young Nooksack teams the past two years. Appropriately, they were the first two to cut the nets on Saturday.
“This group has been so much fun,” said coach Wichers. “They get along and they compete. It has been fun to be a part of that.”
As far as missing an opportunity to play in a “real” state tournament, Wichers said, “It is what it is. Every year you want to be the best you can be whether you’re 10-10 or 20-0. This week we did that.”
And they’ve got the nets to prove it.
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.