Smiles and laughter were more prevalent at the Whatcom County Senior Classic than 3-pointers and dunks— and that’s saying a lot as the best of the Class of 2023 enjoyed their final prep basketball games together at Lynden High School on Friday night, March 10.
“It was more fun than I thought it would be,” said Lynden’s Chloe Wittenberg. “Playing with and against these players … it was a blast.”
The annual Seniors Classic is a girls-boys doubleheader pitting selected seniors from the 11 Whatcom schools. In addition, there were boys and girls 3-point contests and a boys dunk competition.
Who were the top 30 boys and top 30 girls this season? Check out Whatcom Hoops on Monday as we present the best of the best and start the daily countdown from #30 to #1.
But in what has got to be the most competitive county in the state — nine of our 22 teams went to state tournaments bringing home five trophies and three state championships — the operative word on Friday was fun.
“It was really fun, the funnest basketball game I’ve ever played in,” said Lynden Christian’s Daisy Poag. Was it important who won? “No.” Pause. “Maybe a little bit.”
Just for the record, the County teams swept the City teams as the County girls won, 64-49, and the County boys prevailed, 109-97.
Poag led the County girls with 17 points and had five of their 11 3-pointers. “The coaches said there’s no bad shot,” she said with a grin.
All 11 County players scored with the Lynden Christian contingent leading the way. Besides Poag, Alexie Hagen had 10 points, include a pair of 3s; Demi Dykstra had two 3s and joined Taryn Herwerden with 6 points each.
Sehome’s Mac Cooper led the City girls with 14 points. Lummi Nation’s Raven Solomon had 7 points, and Lummi’s Aliesha Solomon and Ferndale’s Cailyn Kessen had two 3-pointers and 6 points each.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be so easy-going,” said Cooper. “It’s kind of weird playing with people I’ve played against all my life. But after our last game (a loss at state), this was good.”
For the boys, bombs and slams were the shots of choice. The two teams combined for 31 3-pointers and almost as many dunks as they had in the pre-game dunk contest.
The City boys struck early with seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, but by the third quarter the County boys had stretched their lead to double figures and not even the scoreboard temporarily going out with 8 minutes to go could stop them.
Meridian’s Hunter Jones had 12 of his game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter to lead the County. Nooksack Valley’s Ayden Roper added 16 points, Lummi Nation’s Richard Wilson had 14 points, Lynden Christian’s Tyler Sipma had 11 points, Lynden’s Kobe Baar had 10 points, and Lynden’s Coston Parcher and Lynden Christian’s Dexter Zylstra had 9 points each.
Sipma and Zylstra had three 3-pointers each, and Wilson and Lynden Christian’s Lane Dykstra had two each.
“It was really fun,” said Wilson, who earned the Tough Guy award for playing despite a broken nose he suffered last week at state. “You got to play in a different environment with a lot of athletic players.”
And was he nervous as the only player from a small Class 1B school or did he want to show he could play with the “big boys.”
“Nervous? Oh, no,” he corrected. “I wanted to show them.”
For the City boys, Squalicum’s Xander Sledge hit six 3-pointers for 18 points to lead the way. Sehome’s Grey Garrison and Grant Kepley had 15 and 13 points, respectively, and Blaine’s tandem of Lucas Smith and Matt Russ had 13 and 12 points, respectively.
“Everybody was having a lot of fun,” said Sledge. “It was fun to play with guys you haven’t played with before.”
And did he have any problem joining the 3-point barrage?
“I’m not dunking, so I’ll be shooting,” he said.
Speaking of shooting, 10 girls competed in the 3-point contest with Nooksack Valley’s Hallie Kamphouse and Ferndale’s Kessen having the top two scores after the first round. In the finals, Kamphouse sank 11 for the night’s top score to edge Kessen.
On the boys side, nine players competed in the first round. Blaine’s Smith was no surprise as he moved into the finals, but hometown favorite Trey Smiley — who is mostly known for his rebounding and passing on Lynden’s state championship team — was a surprise. He made 11 3s in 30 seconds in the first round, which were more than he made all season.
But in the finals, Smith prevailed with seven 3-pointers.
In the dunk contest, Jones, Roper, Russ, Garrison, and Kepley were judged in the first round with Garrison and Russ advancing to the finals. In the end, Garrison was the dunk king with a total score of 137 to Russ’s 120.
But fun was the theme from the jump ball to start the girls game — taken by Ferndale’s 5-foot-3 Ashley Lang and 5-7 Poag, the two shortest players on the court — to the final dunk by Jones to end the boys contest.
Here were some of the highlights:
* While there was a lot of friendly “trash” talking during both games, the two players who probably had the most fun conversing were Meridian’s Avery Neal and Ferndale’s Ellie Ochoa, who always seemed to be guarding each other. Ochoa made a long 3-pointer over Neal, but Avery got the last laugh by outscoring her friend, 4-3.
* If Wilson playing with a broken nose earned the Tough Guy award, then Mount Baker’s Maddy Barter earned the Tough Gal award. Unable to play in the game because of an injured knee, she still joined the 3-point contest, sinking five shots. (Just don’t tell her doctor.)
* The weirdest moment was late in the first quarter of the girls game when Cooper was fouled when she scored as the shot-clock buzzer went off. The official, incorrectly thinking the buzzer ended the quarter, cleared the lane so Cooper could shoot the free throw all by herself. Fortunately, she made it or it would have been an easy rebound and putback.
* With the County comfortably ahead in the girls game, the last quarter was spent with both teams taking long shots that probably made their coaches cringe. In fact, rumor has it that two journalists were offering a monetary reward for anyone who made a halfcourt shot.
No one did so there was no exchange of cash (or WIAA rules violations), but Wittenberg — Lynden’s only representative in the girls game — got the biggest cheer from the crowd and both benches when she tossed up a 30-footer that went in.
* You know it’s just for fun when you shoot a free throw with your off hand, which is what Jones did. He missed the left-handed one, but then came back to make the second one right-handed.
County Girls 64, City Girls 49
City 19 3 19 8—49
County 19 11 15 19—64
City: Ellie Wolverton (Bellingham) 4, Madi Butenschoen (Ferndale) 1, Cailyn Kessen (Ferndale) 6, Ashley Lang (Ferndale) 5, Ellie Ochoa (Ferndale) 3, Aliesha Solomon (Lummi Nation) 6, Raven Solomon (Lummi Nation) 7, Maddy Barter (Mount Baker), Jojo Lindsey (Mount Baker), Mac Cooper (Sehome) 14, Maddie Hogan (Sehome), Callie McEachran (Squalicum) 3.
County: Chloe Wittenberg (Lynden) 5, Reganne Arnold (Lynden Christian) 1, Demi Dykstra (Lynden Christian) 6, Alexie Hagen (Lynden Christian) 10, Taryn Herwerden (Lynden Christian) 6, Daisy Poag (Lynden Christian) 17, Maris Baklund (Meridian) 5, Avery Neal (Meridian) 4, Hallie Kamphouse (Nooksack Valley) 3, Taylor Lentz (Nooksack Valley) 4, Ella Perry (Nooksack Valley) 3.
County Boys 109, City Boys 97
City 32 23 23 19— 97
County 28 31 28 22—109
City: Grayson Stone (Bellingham) 3, Ethan Koreski (Blaine 3), Carson Lehnert (Blaine) 5, Matt Russ (Blaine) 12, Lucas Smith (Blaine) 13, Damian Toney (Ferndale) 4, Dane Dominguez (Sehome) 2, Grey Garrison (Sehome) 15, Grant Kepley (Sehome) 13, Isaac Lawrence (Sehome) 7, Ashton Engelhart (Squalicum), Xander Sledge (Squalicum) 18.
County: Richard Wilson (Lummi Nation) 14, Kobe Baar (Lynden) 10, Coston Parcher (Lynden) 9, Trey Smiley (Lynden) 5, Lane Dykstra (Lynden Christian) 6, Tyler Sipma (Lynden Christian) 11, Dexter Zylstra (Lynden Christian) 9, Hunter Jones (Meridian) 19, Ethan Larson (Mount Baker) 2, Bennett DeLange (Nooksack Valley) 5, Ayden Roper (Nooksack Valley) 16.
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.