In the aftermath of county-wide celebrations, we need to remember there were long stretches in the history of Whatcom County basketball when we didn’t bring home any state championships let alone three.
We are in a “golden era” of collecting gold balls and we need to appreciate it because it is not only extra special for our teams, our schools, and our fans, but it is something truly remarkable in state hoops history.
And we also need to be thankful, which is why for the 2023 state tournaments wrap-up, Whatcom Hoops is going to hand out “thank yous” to so many of those who deserve it.
Thank you state champions
The Whatcom Hoops website started five years ago because at the 2018 state tournaments in Yakima, our teams won three state titles. It was, in one long-time observer’s opinion, the biggest single day in Whatcom County sports history. (And the local daily newspaper had no coverage, thus the birth of Whatcom Hoops.)
But in the past five years — really four years since there were no state playoffs in 2021 because of COVID — we’ve accomplished the feat two more times. Both last year and this year we’ve not only taken three first places but we actually did even better than in 2018 as we had another team place second.
It’s actually been a remarkable decade-plus. Since 2012, Whatcom schools have won 19 state championships, only missing out in only one year (2013).
So thank you to this year’s state champions — the Nooksack Valley girls, Lynden boys, and Lynden Christian boys — for not only continuing the tradition but for making their own history. It was the Pioneers’ first-ever state title, the first back-to-back crowns for the LC boys, and the fourth championship in five tourneys for the Lions.
For stories on the state championship games, visit Lynden boys, Lynden Christian boys, and Nooksack Valley girls.
Thank you to those who didn’t win state
The champion always gets the most attention — and the champs deserve it — but only one team can win it all. Yet all the teams that reach their state tournaments deserve credit for the effort they gave and for the great seasons they had.
The Lynden Christian girls and Blaine boys didn’t bring home titles, but they took their place in the history of their storied programs.
The Lyncs reached the state final for the fifth straight tournament, which could be a first in the history of Washington state girls basketball. And the Borderites not only earned a state trophy for the first time in 19 years, but it was a third-place finish, the highest since the glory years of Luke Ridnour.
In addition, the Lynden girls and the Lummi and Sehome boys reached their respective state tournaments, only to come up short in the first round and go home without trophies. But don’t feel sorry for them or consider their seasons failures.
Besides reaching state, the Lions and Blackhawks claimed district championships. And the Sehome boys can boast of two victories over 2A state champion Lynden.
Still, Lynden junior Mallary Villars was understandably still hurting when we ran into her on championship night and asked if it was hard to be watching the state finals. Yes, she said, especially since her Lions had beaten state runner-up Burlington-Edison by 12 points in the district playoffs.
Check out all the game coverage for all eight state teams at Whatcom Hoops.
Thank you state coaches
We’ve always said we have the best coaches in the state (see above for proof), but we also have been blessed with some of the classiest coaches in the state.
Look no further than Nooksack Valley head coach Shane Wichers. For 27 years he has produced winners yet has lived in the shadow of the top girls basketball program in the state. But last year, minutes after losing to Lynden Christian by one point in overtime, he was gracious in praising LC even after the heartbreaking defeat.
So it was hard not to root for Wichers (unless you were an LC fan … and I hope many of them did at least after the game) when the Pioneers finally won the Class 1A state title against — who else? — the Lyncs. And he was just as gracious in victory as he was in defeat — except this time he had a big smile on his face.
But Wichers was only one of our classy state coaches. Blaine’s Nate Sullivan (boys), Lynden’s Brian Roper (boys) and Vic Wolffis (girls), Lynden Christian’s Brady Bomber (girls) and Tim Zylstra (boys), Sehome’s Brad Jackson (boys) all were kind and caring in both victory and defeat and did their schools and communities proud.
And a special thank you to Lummi Nation boys coach Jerome Toby, who once again took the Blackhawks to the Class 1B state tournament. For the fourth time, Toby had to be our Whatcom Hoops special correspondent in Spokane since their tournament is held at the same time as the 2A and 1A tourneys.
Thank you assistant coaches and managers
The players and head coaches get the publicity and the photos, but the assistant coaches and managers play big parts in the success of our teams — not only during games but during the “off” hours. (I know since I was married to an assistant coach for nine years.)
There are too many to name but what made this year even more special is how many of our assistant coaches also had children playing. To see them hugging their son or daughter after sharing a state championship or a tough loss together will bring a smile or tear to even the most jaded journalist.
And while all the managers deserve a pat on the back, let’s give a special shoutout to fifth-grader Demi Willemsen, who has been on the bench with the Nooksack Valley girls all season long. She’s in line for the introductions, is part of the game huddles, and deservedly cut down the championship net with the other players.
For a list of all the coaches whose children played for our 11 Whatcom schools, check out Family Affairs.
Thank you cheer staffs and bands
If you ever wonder why we try to include photos of the cheer staffs and bands with every game Whatcom Hoops covers, then just watch how much effort these young men and women give during a game … and think about how much time they put in to prepare and practice for their “five minutes” of fame.
Not only are all the cheerleaders’ stunts entertaining and sometimes even breath-taking but their ongoing cheering and non-stop energy leave them sweating almost as much as the players. And they do it all with smiles on their faces.
Then there are our drum-thumping and sweet-sounding bands that not only fire up the fans but make the Yakima SunDome the best place to catch old songs the first week of March.
While the Nooksack Valley and Sehome bands were great, the Lynden band deserves special mention for doing double duty.
When the Blaine band was unable to attend, the Lynden band stepped in to bring its intensity and support to the Borderites. And we’re not talking just hanging around the SunDome. No, the Lions had to come back for the late 9 p.m. game.
Thank you fans and especially students
The old joke during state week was that the last person leaving Lynden had to turn off the lights. This is especially true when the four Lynden and Lynden Christian teams reach the state tournament.
Yakima teams bring more fans — and we wouldn’t bet on it — but no fans travel farther and cheer louder than those rooting for the Lions and Lyncs
Except maybe the purple-powered Nooksack Valley fans, who only had one team this year but filled up their half of the building every time the mighty Pioneers took the court.
The Valley has waited a long time for a girls championship, but they made it worth it this past week by flooding the Dome with purple. And while this reporter enjoyed talking to fans from all the Whatcom teams, only one school offered him a free Nooksack Valley state tournament towel.
Thank you seniors and good luck
This year’s senior class has had incredible success (see all of the above) with many of them making multiple trips to state during their careers and a special few winning multiple state championships.
It is still remarkable how many of them have played together since fifth grade or second grade or even kindergarten. Sharing the state experience they’ve dreamed of for so many years with their best friends — some even called them family — has to be the best feeling in the world.
But of all the senior classes, three deserve special recognition. Sehome had nine seniors, including all five starters, who brought the Mariners back to state the past two years after not having been to Yakima since 2015.
For the Blaine boys, the wait was even longer. But seven seniors helped the Borderites return to Yakima last year for the first time since 2004 — when their teammates weren’t even born — and took a well-deserved third place.
Then there were the Lynden boys. Not only did these seniors win two basketball state titles but eight of them also won two football state championships. How many players in state history can claim that?
And we wanted to give a shoutout to Lynden senior Cameron Petersen, a reserve post player who gave his all during his limited playing time.
To be honest, he wasn’t really on our radar, but just before state, his mother introduced herself and told me she was the daughter of a friend and long-time colleague at the Bellingham Herald.
Then at state, Cameron came over and introduced himself (which never happens with high school kids). If that wasn’t amazing enough, on Saturday night Cameron became the first player in Whatcom Hoops history to offer us a piece of a state championship net. Not even our great-nieces and great-nephews ever did that.
Thank you to two more special people
Lastly, if you are so inclined, let’s all thank the Lord for watching over our players, making the tournaments so much fun and giving us special memories, and especially for keeping us safe as we went over the mountain passes.
And while I can be a little biased, the final, biggest thank you goes to my wife.
While she didn’t have to act as my personal nurse like last year when yours truly was hit by kidney stones, she did take care of all my food needs, carried around my backpack for four days, and drove home so I could get some sleep after the 22-hour championship day shift.
She’s the best. And so are all of our Whatcom teams, schools, fans, and families. We can’t wait for next year.
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.