Eight of our Whatcom high school basketball teams are headed for their respective state tournaments this week with dreams of capturing the “gold ball” state championship trophy.
Not all of them can win, of course, because several are in the same classification. But Whatcom hoopsters have certainly collected their share of state titles. In the past 10 years with state playoffs (and let’s forget the 2021 COVID nightmare), Whatcom teams have won an amazing 16 state championships.
And we’re on a hot streak. In the past four years with tournaments, we’ve won nine state championships, including last March when three of our teams won state crowns.
For complete state schedules, check out the stories for each team’s regional games at Whatcom Hoops.
Will we be able to continue that success? Can the Blaine, Lummi Nation, Lynden, Lynden Christian and Sehome boys and the Lynden, Lynden Christian and Nooksack Valley girls win it all?
We’ll find out after a week of fun in Yakima and Spokane. But one thing is for certain: All of them will make their schools, families, and fans proud.
Here’s a look at the five different 2023 state tournaments and our teams’ outlook in each:
Class 1B Boys
VENUE: Spokane Arena
FAVORITES: Wellpenit (23-1) has been No.1 most of the season and is the top seed and favorite especially after a 37-point win in regionals. But Sunnyside Christian (20-4), which beat defending champ Cusick in regionals, has the history (11 state titles) and motivation (this is Hall of Fame coach Dean Wagenaar’s final tournament). And after beating a good Lummi Nation team in regionals, DeSales (22-2) can’t be overlooked especially since the Irish have two wins over Sunnyside Christian during the regular season.
LUMMI NATION’S OUTLOOK: The Blackhawks (19-8) have their work cut out for them from the start. They open the tournament with a loser-out contest against Mossyrock, a team that beat Lummi Nation by 12 in December. Should the Blackhawks advance, they would face another state power, fourth-seeded Willapa Valley, in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Lummi Nation could be the first team eliminated, but look for the Blackhawks to continue their outstanding playoff run and earn a well-deserved top-six trophy.
LUMMI NATION’S FIRST GAME: Sixth-seeded Blackhawks (19-8) vs. 11th-seeded Mossyrock (19-6) in loser-out game Wednesday at 3:45 p.m.
Class 1A Boys
VENUE: Yakima SunDome
FAVORITES: Regionals shook up the brackets as Blaine knocked off co-favorite Zillah (22-2) and fourth-seeded Freeman (21-2) made its case by beating perennial power King’s. If Zillah gets by Seattle Academy on Wednesday, the Lynden Christian-Zillah winner on Thursday will be the big favorite. But sitting in the shadows is Annie Wright (25-1), which toppled a good Toppenish team in regionals. While it’s LC’s title until someone knocks off the Lyncs, this is a wide-open tournament so expect some great games starting with the quarterfinals.
BLAINE’S OUTLOOK: And then there are the Borderites. Blaine shocked everyone outside of Whatcom County by beating an outstanding Zillah team on the road. The Borderites are dangerous, motivated, and not intimidated by anyone. A spot in the semis (and a trophy) are very realistic, and they’d like nothing better than another crack at King’s, which beat Blaine by two in the Borderites’ season opener. Could it be an all-Whatcom final? Don’t be shocked.
BLAINE’S FIRST GAME: Seventh-seeded Borderites (17-7) vs. winner of Wednesday’s Overlake (16-8)-Lakeside (9 Mile) (14-10) game in quarterfinals Thursday at 9 p.m.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN’S OUTLOOK: The road to back-to-back state titles just got tougher for the Lyncs thanks to Blaine’s upset of Zillah. But like the Borderites, LC has played (and defeated) some of the best teams in the state so the Lyncs fear no one. It won’t be easy, but they can beat anyone in the field with their defense, and if their shots are falling they will be hoisting the gold ball again.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN’S FIRST GAME: Top-seeded Lyncs (23-2) vs. winner of Wednesday’s Seattle Academy (14-9)-Zillah (22-2) game in quarterfinals Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Class 1A Girls
VENUE: Yakima SunDome
FAVORITES: History tells us that picking favorites in the 1A girls tourney starts and stops with Whatcom County teams. Only once in the past eight tournaments has there NOT been a Whatcom team in the finals and six times a Whatcom team has won it, including the past two. This year, the wildcard is Wapato (23-1), whose run-and-gun style is a nightmare for opponents. But let’s be honest; Nooksack Valley is the heavy favorite and if it’s Wapato vs. Lynden Christian in the other semifinal, the winner will have their work cut out for them if they face the Pioneers in the final.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN’S OUTLOOK: The most successful 1A program in state history doesn’t rebuild. At Lynden Christian, they restock with a star or two and a deep, disciplined and defensive-minded squad. As two-time defending champs, the Lyncs know what it takes and have been here before. This season, they’ve played the best in the state and beaten almost all of them with one exception: rival Nooksack Valley. Nothing is guaranteed, but be sure to come early Saturday and reserve your seat for the 3 p.m. state final in case it’s LC-Nooksack III.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN’S FIRST GAME: Second-seeded Lyncs (23-3) vs. winner of Wednesday’s Bellevue Christian (21-2)-Freeman (19-5) game in quarterfinals Thursday at 2 p.m.
NOOKSACK VALLEY’S OUTLOOK: With any other team, you’d hate to build them up for fear of making them overconfident. But barring a devastating injury to one of their stars or an opponent playing a near-perfect game … OK, we’re being honest here … Nooksack Valley would probably still win. Cashmere and King’s could push the Pioneers, but the only ones with a chance of being close in the fourth quarter appear to be Wapato or the Pioneers’ nemesis, Lynden Christian, which beat Nooksack Valley in last year’s state final. Talent and motivation point toward Nooksack Valley finally winning that first state title.
NOOKSACK VALLEY’S FIRST GAME: Top-seeded Pioneers (24-1) vs. winner of Wednesday’s Cashmere (15-5)-Annie Wright (18-8) game in quarterfinals Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
Class 2A Boys
VENUE: Yakima SunDome
FAVORITES: Like the 1A boys, the 2A boys brackets have been busted … and the Northwest Conference teams were in the middle of the busting. With second-seeded Anacortes’ loss and Lynden’s upset of third-seeded Renton, that means the top four seeds are all in one bracket with only one capable of reaching the semifinals (barring even more upsets). The main beneficiaries are Prosser, Lynden, and Sehome, but unfortunately for Whatcom fans, if Sehome wins Wednesday, the Lions and Mariners will meet in the quarterfinals with only one moving on. So who will win it all? Undefeated Pullman is still the favorite but any of the top seven seeds could claim the crown.
LYNDEN’S OUTLOOK: “March comes in like a lion” is a saying referring to the weather, but when it comes to 2A state, March belongs to the Lions. Lynden has won 18 of its last 19 state playoff games, which translates into three state titles in the past four tournaments. They weren’t among the favorites before Friday’s dismantling of once-beaten Renton and the Lions are looking at (and maybe looking forward to) a third game against Sehome, which has beaten Lynden twice. But the green and gold is used to lifting up the gold ball, so watch out Yakima because it’s going to be March in a couple of days.
LYNDEN’S FIRST GAME: Sixth-seeded Lions (21-4) vs. winner of Wednesday’s Sehome (18-5)-North Kitsap (18-7) game in quarterfinals Thursday at 12:15 p.m.
SEHOME’S OUTLOOK: Sehome ran into a hot and talented Mark Morris team on the road in regionals and for their troubles, the Mariners have a rough road ahead of them. North Kitsap (last year’s favorite) is no push-over and then comes a revenge-minded Lynden squad and possibly a Prosser team that beat Sehome earlier this season (although the Mariners would like nothing better than another crack at the Mustangs). But when they are playing up to their potential, these talented Mariners also can beat anyone in the field. A spot in the finals wouldn’t be a big shock, but another letdown could mean missing out on a trophy.
SEHOME’S FIRST GAME: Fifth-seeded Mariners (18-5) vs. 13th-seeded North Kitsap (18-7) in loser-out game Wednesday at 12:15 p.m.
Class 2A Girls
VENUE: Yakima SunDome
FAVORITES: If there is a team as heavily favored as the Nooksack Valley girls, it’s the Ellensburg girls. The defending champs haven’t lost in two years; in fact, their last loss was to Lynden in the 2020 state quarterfinals. (And guess who Ellensburg might play in the 2023 state quarterfinals?) Again, you can’t give a team the state crown before Saturday, but if you could, it would the Bulldogs. But, just for the record, if the Bulldogs were to stumble, the most likely scenario would involve second-seeded Lynden, fourth-seeded Prosser, and third-seeded Burlington-Edison, which happen to be the three teams Ellensburg will likely face if it wants to win a second straight title.
LYNDEN’S OUTLOOK: The Lions were playing some of their best ball of the season … until Saturday’s regional loss. Not only will Lynden have to bounce back against a solid Othello team on Wednesday, but next up would be everyone’s favorite, Ellensburg, in the quarterfinals. When their shots are dropping, the Lions can beat anyone, including Ellensburg. But there’s no room for error once you reach the final eight and the Lions will have to be at their best if they want to add another state trophy to their growing trophy case.
LYNDEN’S FIRST GAME: Second-seeded Lions (20-5) vs. 10th-seeded Othello in loser-out game Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
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.