State Wrap-Up: And The Awards Go To … 

With the basketball state tournaments wrapping up and the Academy Awards coming up, it’s a natural to combine the excitement of hoops with our love of movies. And since Hollywood is always a little behind the times, Whatcom Hoops will take the lead.

You can still catch your favorite seniors this Friday at the John Clark Whatcom County Senior Classic at Lynden’s Jake Maberry Gymnasium. The girls events start at 6 p.m. and the boys action follows. Watch for a preview later this week at Whatcom Hoops.

After covering eight teams in six tournaments, watching 16 games involving Whatcom teams, writing approximately 15,000 words and taking approximately 4,000 photos (only about 10 percent of which were in focus), and averaging three hours of sleep each night…


Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
Thought you’d have to see it to believe it.

Best music

And the winner is: The Lynden band. High school pep bands have really improved over the years, but nobody puts more thought, energy and — let’s be honest — volume into their performances than the Lions. Their songs resonate all game long and — let’s be honest — are still echoing in your brain for a day or two later.

Honorable mention: Lynden Christian, Nooksack Valley, and Clarkston. We’re pretty spoiled; we not only have the best teams but the best bands. And I threw in Clarkston because any school that can convince a teenager to put on an inflated chicken suit while playing the drums … well, that’s a serious band.

Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
Brian Roper not only is a good interview, he’s a good Grandpa.

Best sound (bite)

And the winner is: Lynden boys coach Brian Roper. While all our coaches are really good about being quoted and give honest and thoughtful answers whether after a victory or defeat, my favorite quote of the week was from Roper. In trying to describe how great Lynden star Anthony Canales is, Roper said: “Anthony is on the Mount Rushmore of Lynden basketball.” 

Honorable mention: Any quote from Lynden girls coach Rob Adams.

Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
Not the first rodeo for Devin Coppinger (24) and the Pioneers’ pony tails.

Make up and hairstyling

And the winner is: Every girl player who wears a ponytail, which is like 90 percent of them. After taking action photos for six years, you notice how often those ponytails are swinging around. My favorite image: the Nooksack Valley girls in a huddle during the biggest game of the season, and while coach Shane Wichers is giving them crucial information that could change the course of their prep careers, seniors Devin Coppinger and Lainey Kimball are barely paying attention as they adjust their ponytails … again. “Don’t worry coach, we’ve got this.”

Honorable mention: All the female cheerleaders, who try to look attractive and keep smiling despite doing dances, backflips, and pyramids while wearing bows in their hair and sparkles on their faces for an entire game and sometimes two a day. (And special props to the male cheerleaders, who aren’t trying to look attractive but instead are trying not to drop the girls flying through the air.) 

Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
(From left) Kaylee Anderson, Tana Hoekema, and Hailey Kimball join Devin Coppinger in holding the trophies.

Female player in a supporting role

And the winners are: Kimball, Tana Hoekema, and Kaylee Anderson (Nooksack Valley). The Pioneers seniors would be the stars on almost any other team — Hoekema even earned all-tournament second-team honors — but they were happy to let their bestie, Coppinger, take the spotlight. Still, what made Nooksack a championship squad was how good the “other” seniors were.

Honorable mention: Ailina Rabang (Lummi Nation). The Lady Blackhawks only got to play one game in Spokane, but they wouldn’t have made it without the sophomore who transferred in at mid-season. Her dribbling and scoring were a great complement to Lummi star Jemma James, who often got the opponents’ defensive attention. But with Rabang playing at an all-league level, the Blackhawks came within one game of earning a state trophy.

Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
Brady Elsner shares a golden moment with dad (and coach) Mike Elsner.

Male player in a supporting role

And the winner is: Brady Elsner (Lynden). You can’t give an MVP award to someone who only scored six points in three games, but the senior point guard was a huge reason Lynden won all three games. His ball handling negated opponents’ pressure, his steady leadership gave teammates confidence and poise, and his unselfishness inspired a talented team to be an unselfish, great team.

Honorable mention: Taran Burks (Meridian). On a team with two all-league scorers, the senior point guard was the rock, who played every minute of every game with 100 percent effort on both offense and defense. And while we marvel at the consistency of the Lyndens and LCs returning to state year after year, the Trojans remind us that in the real world of normal schools, just making it to state is a real accomplishment worthy of praise. Great job, Meridian.

Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
MVP Devin Coppinger and the Pioneers cut down the nets again.

Female player in a leading role

And the winner is: Devin Coppinger (Nooksack Valley). One of the greatest players in the history of the 1A state tournament and two-time tournament MVP, she would not let the Pioneers lose the past two years. Her bucket and four free throws in the final minute of a tied championship game are as clutch as any performance in the playoffs. Is she the GOAT? I don’t want to say, but nobody in Whatcom County history has done what she’s done.

Honorable mention: Payton Mills (Lynden), Finley Parcher (Lynden), and Grace Hintz (Lynden Christian). Mills and Parcher were the Dynamic Duo that proved the Lions were not only the best of the 2As but one of the best in any classification. Hintz, meanwhile, took the Lyncs to within one basket of playing in the championship game … just two months after she was still limping from her knee surgery and the inexperienced Lyncs were still trying to find themselves.

Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
MVP Anthony Canales and the Lions rose above every team for three years.

Male player in a leading role

And the winner is: Anthony Canales (Lynden). He won his third state tournament MVP award, led the Lions to an unprecedented third straight state title, and in the championship game broke the school’s single-season scoring record (he already owns the career scoring record). Is he the GOAT? I don’t want to say, but nobody in Whatcom County history has done what he’s done.

Honorable mention: Brant Heppner (Lynden), Jeremiah Wright (Lynden Christian), and Gannon Dykstra (Lynden Christian). Heppner joined Canales on the all-tournament first team, and Wright and Dykstra were first and second team, respectively, after leading the Lyncs to third place. As they have all season, all three played big in the biggest games.

Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
Even with his best player injured, Jerome Toby Sr. and Lummi Nation brought home another trophy.


And the winner is: Jerome Toby Sr. (Lummi Nation boys). This was definitely the hardest category to pick. It’s impossible to choose between three coaches winning state titles, two coaches who own multiple state titles barely coming up short, and two coaches taking teams to state that could easily have been sitting at home. They are all champions in my book.

So, I’m going with the coach who didn’t do any of those things. Toby, however, took a team that had to play without its best player — injured Jerome Toby Jr. — and who had to sit another good player and still managed to bring home a trophy. (Imagine Lynden without Canales or Nooksack without Coppinger.) And through it all, coach Toby not only didn’t make excuses or blame bad luck. Instead, he was gracious in both victory and defeat — the definition of class. He did what he always asks his team to do: make Lummi Nation proud.

Honorable mention: All the other coaches deserve to be honored, so in alphabetical order — Rob Adams (Lynden girls), Brady Bomber (Lynden Christian girls), Krista Mahle (Lummi Nation girls), Brian Roper (Lynden boys), Shane Stacy (Meridian boys), Shane Wichers (Nooksack Valley girls), and Tim Zylstra (Lynden Christian boys). We really do have the best coaches in the state.

Whatcom Hoops March-5-2024
Their faces say it all: The Lynden girls were the best.

Best picture

Honorable mentions: How do you pick the best moment among four days of incredible, emotional, and unforgettable games? Any time your team lifts that gold ball, it’s the moment of a lifetime, and we had three teams do it. Two of those teams accomplished something historic — the Lynden boys winning a third straight state title, a first for both the school (and they’ve been playing since 1913) and all Class 2A schools, and the Nooksack Valley girls winning back-to-back titles, a first for the school and only the 10th time in 1A history. But one team not only won a state title and did something historic, but they did it in exciting fashion in perhaps the most hyped game of the tournament … 

And the winner is: The Lynden girls’ “upset” of Ellensburg in the 2A state championship game. All season long, everyone knew it would come down to this game. Ellensburg vs. Lynden. The Beast of the East vs. the Best of the West. The team with the 75-game winning streak vs. the the last team to beat them at state. And everyone in the SunDome knew it would come down to the final seconds.

And in those final seconds, when senior Haylee Koetje hit the game-winner to vanquish not only the mighty Bulldogs but the memories of how the last three seasons ended in disappointment, Lynden’s girls once again proved they were the class of the Class 2A. It was historic, exciting … and the best.

There you have it. The awards for the best of the best in Washington state high school basketball. But before we sign off, we want to give our acceptance speech.

“I’d like to thank all the players, head coaches and assistant coaches, administrators, bands, cheer staffs, and especially fans for making these exciting and successful state tournaments the perfect ending to perhaps the best season of Whatcom County high school basketball and one of the best seasons in the history of all Whatcom County sports.

“I’d also like to thank Heather Leighton, Averi Evans, Marie Yates, and Butch Kamena for helping Whatcom Hoops cover games that we were unable to attend. 

“And last but not least, I’d like to thank my wonderful wife, Nadine, for allowing me to live out this dream job called Whatcom Hoops. Not only was she amazingly supportive throughout the season, but she took care of everything at state while I was busy doing my thing. She truly is a winner in my eyes.

“So, until next November when, the Lord willing, we start another great basketball season together, I hope you enjoy all the memories that were made this past week. Take care and God bless.

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

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.

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