The Devin Coppinger Story, Part II: The Rise Of The Valley Girls

Like many smaller communities in Whatcom County, Everson and Nooksack are tied together by family bloodlines and generational friendships.

So it was with Devin Coppinger and the Valley Girls.

Although not related, Devin met Hallie Kamphouse, Taylor Lentz, and Lainey Kimball at an early age because their parents had been long-time friends.

“My first memory of Devin was making pies in a jar for her birthday,” said Kimball, who like Devin is a senior at Nooksack Valley. “Her mom made us little aprons. We’d spend every single waking moment together, riding Hallie’s 4-wheeler all day, playing Monopoly all night. And we played every single sport together.”

Whatcom Hoops’s three-part series on Nooksack Valley star Devin Coppinger concludes Wednesday. Check out Devin’s Story Part I and Devin’s Story Part III.

While their sports exploits would get the most attention — more on that in a moment — it’s important to know that these four were more than teammates.

“Hallie, Lainey, and Taylor are my longest friends and best friends,” said Devin. “They’ve been around forever.”

When asked to sum up who Devin Coppinger was, the outgoing Kimball told a story that had nothing to do with their success on the basketball court.

“We had a ginormous snowstorm with 10-foot drifts, and we were at Tay’s house for two or three days,” she said. “We were going to walk about a mile to the farm and play with the cows.

“Hallie decided to jump into a snowdrift and got stuck. When we finally got her out, her shoes were stuck and we couldn’t get them out. Devin gave one of her boots to Hallie, and they walked with one bare foot the entire mile.”

As if sharing birthdays parities, all-night Monopoly games, and snow boots wasn’t enough, the four girls found they shared a love of hoops.

Whatcom Hoops February-18-2024
Little Valley Girls from left: Devin, Hallie, Taylor, and Lainey

‘Those Girls Were Tough As Nails’

When the Coppingers moved from Renton to Everson when Devin was 4, she played a year at the Lynden YMCA before the Coppingers and their Nooksack Valley friends started their own team, which included boys such as current Pioneers Brady Ackerman and Colton Lentz.

But the four girls quickly showed their talent and a new girls-only team was formed. Outfitted in their little purple uniforms, the kindergartners and first-graders became known as the Valley Girls.

For most of their youth, Devin’s dad coached her teams.

“I always said, ‘We don’t play girls basketball, we play basketball,’” said Mike Coppinger. “There’s only one way to play basketball. All those girls were tough as nails. I told them offense will come, but we’ll be the toughest-minded in-your-face team. They just jumped all over that.”

They started in the Whatcom and Skagit circuit, playing up a year because they were crushing everyone in their own age group. When Devin and Lainey got to fifth grade and Hallie and Taylor were in sixth grade, they were playing in the eighth-grade division.

“We were going to take some lumps, but we had to learn how to lose,” said Mike. “But I knew how they were hungry to compete, and it would push them.”

When they reached sixth and seventh grades, the Valley Girls couldn’t play locally any more because older girls were participating in the high school season, so the Valley Girls headed south to play in tournaments in the Seattle area. And the success didn’t stop.

Playing with familiar names such as former Lynden Christian and Lynden standouts Demi Dykstra, Daisy Poag, Adia Newcomb, and Chloe Wittenberg, the Nooksack Valley foursome kept on winning.

“They (opposing coaches) would come up later and ask, ‘Who are you guys?” Mike said. “We’d say, ‘We’re from Nooksack.’ They’d never heard of it.”

As middle-schoolers, they won the high school league in Skagit County and Lynden Christian’s high school junior varsity tournament.

“I knew in the middle of elementary school when we really started playing up and holding our own against bigger and stronger girls, you could see (they were good),” said Mike. “That seventh-grade year, they’re getting closer to maturity. Now we’re really, really good.”

As teammate Kimball remembered: “We played up in sixth grade (against eighth-graders) and got our butts kicked every single game. It was bad. Then all of a sudden (in seventh grade), we were beating the teams in the championship game that had beaten us by 30.” 

Perhaps their biggest moment came when they entered the prestigious Best in the West Tournament in Yakima against some of the top AAU and select teams on the West Coast. They would end up losing the championship game, but along the way beat the highly touted Tree of Hope team in the semifinals.

Whatcom Hoops February-18-2024
Devin with a few of her Tree of Hope medals

Branching Out With Tree Of Hope

After turning heads in the Northwest, it was time for Devin to decide if she was good enough for a bigger stage. And Tree of Hope would be the vehicle.

The only Nike-sponsored select team north of California, Tree of Hope took the best of the best from Washington state and played in tournaments all around the nation. It would mean not only playing almost every weekend, but traveling to Seattle twice a week for three-hour practices.

Beginning in seventh grade and for the next four years, Devin started on Tree of Hope teams that would play in the Nike national tournaments in Chicago and big-time events in Virginia, Arizona, Minnesota, Georgia, and Iowa.

And everywhere Tree of Hope went, crowds followed.

“The U17 girls were playing on the main courts and our eighth-grade team was playing against some Alabama team in the championship game,” Devin recalled of her Nike national experience. “All the coaches were at our game. It was a super fun game and, wow! We’re getting a lot of attention.”

During those spring and summer seasons, she was challenged by playing with and against some of the top players in the country, girls she now can watch on TV playing college ball.

“Tree of Hope was a completely different level of competition,” said Devin. “Seeing other girls with the same skill level, being challenged like I hadn’t been before, going to different states and top tournaments and seeing girls who are taller, bigger, more athletically gifted.

“But that led to more determination. It’s sort of that place where you give in or keep going. Normally, I figure it out because I’m not going to give in.”

Whatcom Hoops February-18-2024
Devin and some of the recruiting letters she received

Catching The College Coaches’ Eyes

Not only did Devin’s team get a lot of attention, but so did the point guard from Everson, Washington, who was a standout for a Tree of Hope squad that was among the best in the nation. That’s when things changed again.

“Her (Tree of Hope) coach said, ‘Are you ready?’” remembered Mike. “We asked, ‘For what?’”

For a barrage of letters and phone calls from and to college coaches from around the country. All of a sudden, everyone wanted the eighth-grade Valley Girl.

“It was certainly a surreal experience,” said Terra of the recruiting process. “She’s still in middle school and she’s calling these coaches. It was kind of cool to see her growth through that. There were times of her being nervous, but she got pretty good at it. I was proud of her and sort of in disbelief.”

It wasn’t always fun for Devin.

“The recruiting experience was a lot of responsibility to take on when I was so young, taking away from being a kid and being carefree,” she said. “I was taking business calls from coaches at (colleges) I didn’t want to be at. I didn’t know what I wanted to study. Not that I’m not blessed and thankful … but there was a little bit of stress.”

Fortunately, there was something else to look forward to. Freshmen Devin and Lainey would be joining sophomores Hallie and Taylor at Nooksack Valley High School and the Valley Girls would be reunited.

“I knew it was going to be something special,” said Devin. “With that core group, we would kill everyone. ‘Watch out for the Valley Girls!’ I knew that we would leave a mark.”

TOMORROW, PART III: Making History and Devin’s Legacy 

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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