The Nooksack Valley girls basketball team showed why it is the class of the Northwest Conference by winning the battle of the “unbeatens” Friday night, Jan. 21.
But the Pioneers did it in unexpected fashion, using a smothering defense to defeat Lynden, 64-35, at Jake Maberry Gymnasium and take over undisputed first place in the NWC.
“Our defense was outstanding,” said Nooksack Valley coach Shane Wichers, whose team raised its record to 12-2 overall and 10-0 in league. “I was really, really happy.”
Both teams came into the game unbeaten in league play and both teams were hot thanks to their potent offenses. The Pioneers had won five in a row and the Lions had won six straight. But on Friday night, potent offenses gave way to a potent defense.
“Our goal is to hold teams under 40 points,” said Nooksack Valley sophomore Lainey Kimball. “We knew it would be a scrappy game so we wanted to be super aggressive.”
The Pioneers certainly were. After Lynden’s Haylee Koetje hit a 3-pointer to open the game, Nooksack Valley’s switching man-to-man held the Lions to only four more points in the first quarter and only six points in the second quarter to take a commanding 33-13 lead at halftime.
For the game, Lynden’s 35 points tied its lowest total of the season, which came in an earlier 35-30 victory over Meridian.
“That’s the best we’ve been defended all season,” said Lynden coach Vic Wolffis, whose team fell to 10-3 overall and 10-1 in league. “We played decent defense, but we couldn’t play defense well enough to keep them to 30 points.”
While the young and inexperienced Lions were struggling on offense, the veteran Pioneers were showing their depth in coming close to their scoring average for the season (68 points per game).
As usual, point guard Devin Coppinger led the way by running the Nooksack Valley offense efficiently and scoring 24 points.
“Lynden’s a good team,” said Coppinger. “We knew they’d come at us. But we came in with a good mindset. We had something to prove.”
Nooksack Valley’s super sophomore had plenty of help on Friday. Kimball added 10 points, senior McKenna Wichers had 9 points, sophomore Kaylee Anderson came off the bench to hit a pair of 3-pointers, and eight different Pioneers scored three or more points.
“We’re deeper than we look,” said coach Wichers. “January is when things start clicking and people start trusting each other. You never know when your time will come. That’s the power of team.”
Lynden’s own super sophomore, Koetje, had 13 points, Claire DeVries had 10 points all in the second half, and junior Adia Newcomb had 7 points.
For DeVries, the Lions’ lone senior, the game was a learning experience that she wouldn’t mind repeating.
“We learned not to be intimidated,” she said. “We came back in the second half and played better. I’d like to play the whole game over again and to play like how we usually do.”
With Lynden and Nooksack Valley looking to be favorites heading into their respective Class 2A and 1A district tournaments in a couple of weeks, Friday’s game seemed more of a measuring stick than a championship matchup.
“They’re a better team than we are right now,” said Wolffis. “But we learned some good lessons for the big games in the future.”
But at least one Pioneer wanted to enjoy the present.
“It was a very fun environment,” said Kimball of the big crowd, the loud Lynden band, and the cheering Nooksack faithful. “It was a lot of fun.”
The Pioneers are off until Wednesday, Jan. 26, when they host Burlington-Edison, one of three NWC squads chasing Nooksack with one loss. The Lions’ next game is at home against Ferndale on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
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.