And Round 1 goes to … Nooksack Valley.
In the heavyweight clash heard ‘round the state, the top-ranked Nooksack Valley girls dominated No.2 Lynden Christian, 66-52, in a Northwest Conference battle Friday night, Jan. 6.
The Pioneers shocked the Lyncs with a 25-point third quarter that turned a close game into verification that Nooksack Valley is the class of the Class 1A. The Pioneers’ lead would be 22 points before a late LC spurt made the margin respectable.
“It’s a great win against a really quality team,” said Nooksack Valley coach Shane Wichers, whose team improved to 12-1 overall and 7-0 in league. “We wanted to see where we’re at.” And where does Wichers think the Pioneers are at? “I’m pleased where we’re at,” he said with a smile.
Even before the game started, there was unparalleled build up. Lynden Christian is the defending Class 1A state champion having defeated Nooksack Valley in the state title game. The Pioneers are ranked No.1 in all the polls, just ahead of the Lyncs. Scorebook Live even has Nooksack eighth and LC ninth in the state regardless of classification.
And if you needed any more proof, then you should have come to the game a half-hour before it started — because you couldn’t have gotten in. The gym doors were closed probably for the first time since the old Whatcom County League battles 40 years ago and the two schools’ JV teams got to play before a standing room only crowd.
“It was fun,” said Nooksack Valley all-state guard Devin Coppinger. “When our community comes out like that, we feed off their energy.”
Lynden Christian coach Brady Bomber, whose team fell to 10-2 overall and 5-1 in NWC play, took the loss as a learning experience, something his less-experienced squad needed.
“They’re an experienced team, and it showed tonight,” said Bomber of the Pioneers. “Nooksack was able to impose their will on the game. We got some of our flaws exposed.”
None of the participants needed to be reminded about last year, when Nooksack Valley won the regular-season game between the two, but the Lyncs came back to win rematches in the district championship game and the state final.
“This meant a lot to us, but it’s just a league game,” said junior Tana Hoekema, who led the Pioneers with 20 points. “We still have the anger from last year. But this was one step. And we’re hoping it happens (that the two teams play each other) two more times.”
As usual, Coppinger controlled the tempo while spreading the ball around. She scored 19 points and had two 3-pointers, but she got a lot of help.
Hoekema got the Pioneers going with 10 first-quarter points, including a pair of 3-pointers. When the Lyncs cut the margin to a couple of buckets early in the second half, she added eight points, including all six of her free throws, during the third-quarter explosion.
Nooksack Valley also got 9 points from junior Lainey Kimball and 8 points from senior Hallie Kamphouse.
“So many people stepped up,” said Coppinger before naming every one of her teammates who played. “We want to enjoy the moment, but we have to keep working.”
For Lynden Christian, all-state guard Grace Hintz provided most of the offense. The sophomore had 29 points, 21 of them in the second half as the Lyncs tried to keep pace with Nooksack. She also hit three of LC’s six 3-pointers.
Seniors Demi Dykstra and Reganne Arnold added 7 points each for the Lyncs.
“This game meant a lot, but we know it’s a three-round fight,” said Hintz. “We came in confident, but we realize we still need to get better. We want to play them again to prove we’re a great team.”
Both coaches were quick to keep the game in perspective.
“It was a rematch between the two schools, but not between the two teams,” said Wichers, pointing out how different the two squads are from their 2022 versions. “It was a big game, but (keep it in) perspective. It’s Jan. 6 not March 4 (the date of the state championship game).”
Said Bomber, perhaps with last year’s loss to Nooksack in mind: “We’re happy with how the first couple of months have gone for us, but we have a long ways to go. This could be the best thing to happen to us.”
Nooksack Valley 66, Lynden Christian 52
Lynden Christian 11 11 15 15—52
Nooksack Valley 18 11 25 12—66
Lynden Christian: Hagen 3, De. Dykstra 7, Herwerden, Fritts 1, Hintz 29, Fay, DeJong 2, Poag 3, Arnold 7.
Nooksack Valley: Kimball 9, Shintaffer, Kamphouse 8, Coppinger 19, Hoekema 20, Lentz 3, Anderson 2, Perry, DeHoog 5.
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.