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Can Whatcom prep basketball teams continue postseason domination?

Fewer teams will survive districts, reach state

Nooksack Valley’s Taylor Lentz holds her piece of the net as she descends from the ladder.
Nooksack Valley’s Taylor Lentz holds her piece of the net during the trophy ceremonies March 4, 2023, after beating Lynden Christian 43-36 in the 1A state championship game at the Yakima Valley SunDome. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
By Connor J. Benintendi Sports Editor

Whatcom County has had three state champion basketball teams in the each of the past two seasons. 

Entering last season, I thought there was no chance it would happen again — how could it? It’s a feat that seems impossible, until it isn’t.

I am taking a different approach this season. As district tournaments draw near, rather than thinking about all the ways it won’t happen, we are instead going to look at all the ways it will happen.

Start with this: As of Thursday, Feb. 1, five Whatcom County teams are ranked first or second in their respective classifications in the entire state, per the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s RPI rankings — three boys teams and two girls teams. The list widens to six teams if including programs ranked top-five in their classification.

The rankings heavily influence state tournament seeding, and if all six teams make it out of districts and regionals, there is a good chance five of the six programs will be seeded top two.

Experience is also a factor. Three of this season’s top six teams are reigning state champions. Lynden and Lynden Christian’s boys teams have both won back-to-back titles. And they will probably do it again.

Last season (and I believe I told multiple people in the program this, so they won’t be shocked), I figured it was a long shot that Lynden would be able to repeat whenever it entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed.

Lions head coach Brian Roper is a certified wizard — and a six-time state champion as a result.

The reigning 1A state champion Nooksack Valley girls team has won 40 straight games against teams in Washington. That’s all you need to know about the Pioneers’ prospects of a repeat.


Lynden’s girls team has fallen short in recent years despite promising seasons. There’s hope this year, however, as three-time state champion coach Rob Adams returned to lead the Lions. Lynden is ranked second in 2A.

Finally, the Lummi Nation boys team is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 1B. The Blackhawks, who are practically a shoo-in for state with the teams they will face in districts, didn’t earn a trophy last season but finished fourth in 2022. They are in search of their first title since the 2014–15 season.

All of these groups have an increasingly high chance to at least reach their respective championship games. But there’s work to be done before then.

Here’s a look at the Northwest Conference standings heading into the final few days of the regular season.

Boys basketball, Northwest Conference Jan. 31
BoysLeagueOverall
TeamW-LW-L
Lynden13-016-3
Lynden
Christian
13-119-1
Mount
Vernon
12-116-2
Anacortes10-314-4
Bellingham9-511-8
Lakewood8-611-8
Nooksack
Valley
7-711-9
Squalicum7-79-10
Sedro-
Woolley
6-89-10
Sehome6-89-10
Ferndale5-86-12
Meridian5-910-10
Burlington-
Edison
5-910-11
Blaine2-124-15
Mount
Baker
1-133-16
Oak
Harbor
1-133-16
Girls basketball, Northwest Conference Jan. 31
GirlsLeagueOverall
TeamW-LW-L
Nooksack
Valley
15-020-1
Lynden12-118-1
Burlington-
Edison
12-215-4
Lynden
Christian
12-215-5
Sehome10-411-5
Oak
Harbor
9-512-7
Ferndale8-59-9
Squalicum8-613-7
Anacortes5-89-9
Blaine5-99-10
Lakewood5-97-9
Sedro-
Woolley
4-108-10
Mount
Vernon
3-106-11
Meridian2-125-14
Bellingham1-133-15
Mount
Baker
0-143-16

The road to state got harder for some, less laborious for others

State allocations, and how many are assigned to each district by classification, have changed with the 2023–24 season. The notable changes are the increase to two berths for 1A District 1, and the decrease to two for 2A District 1.

The only difference in 1A will be the elimination of the pointless, laughable, waste-of-time bi-district crossover games with District 2. 

Over the past two seasons, the two boys and girls teams to advance from District 1 (all Whatcom County teams) would have to drive to Shoreline to play the third and fourth seeds from District 2 to decide which groups advanced to state. 

District 2 teams never won a single game in that format (eight total games over two years), and they lost to District 1 powerhouses by an average of 36.5 points per game. Good riddance. It was never worth the day spent.

Barring a remarkable collapse, you can essentially write in Nooksack Valley and Lynden Christian as heading back to state on the girls side.

LC is in the middle of a late-season resurgence since junior guard Grace Hintz recovered from a torn ACL that she suffered in the offseason. Hintz is the team’s bona fide top player, and she has been key to the Lyncs’ runs at the state championship the last two seasons.

The larger impact is on 2A District 1 tournaments. A decrease to two state berths has put a bottleneck on the area that will keep state-worthy teams out of Yakima. 

Take the 2A boys RPI rankings for example. No. 2 Lynden, No. 4 Cedarcrest and No. 8 Anacortes will all compete in the 2A District 1 tournament, and one must be eliminated. That means one team, which likely would have been a top-10 state seed out of 16 teams, won’t even make it past districts. 

The 2A District 1 girls tournament will also be close, with four teams currently ranked top 15 in the state. No. 2 Lynden, No. 8 Burlington-Edison, No. 12 Squalicum and No. 15 Sehome will all be vying for just two state bids. 

I understand spreading the wealth, especially at the high school level, but try and imagine a state tournament with the best 16 teams in the state — we may never see it.

New players ready to make a push

Two teams pique my interest on the boys side: Nooksack Valley and Bellingham. The former will be in the 1A District 1 tournament, while the latter will be in the cluttered 2A District 1 bracket.

In any other region of the state, these teams are likely to cruise to lower-seed state berths. Around here, nothing comes easy. 

Nooksack Valley is the favorite to earn a state berth alongside Lynden Christian out of 1A District 1 over Meridian, Blaine and Mount Baker. 

If the Pioneers keep it together, they can earn their first state appearance since the 2010–11 season after being an afterthought to Blaine and Meridian in recent years.

Bellingham, on the other hand, is the best team on virtually nobody’s statewide radar. The Bayhawks are 26th in the 2A RPI rankings while playing in a district tournament with three other state-viable teams. 

A berth out of districts would be Bellingham’s first since the 2003–04 season.

On the girls side, previously mentioned Sehome and Squalicum would each need impressive runs to make the 2A state tournament. That said, it would make for historic seasons for both programs. 

Sehome was eliminated in regionals last season, and a state berth would be its first since 2014–15. Squalicum has only made state twice in its history, most recently in 2009–10.

District tournaments get started on Feb. 3, beginning with Class 1B. Full district schedules are available on the NWC website. State tournaments run Feb. 28 to March 2 at various locations. More details are available on the WIAA website.

Connor J. Benintendi is CDN’s sports editor; reach him at connorbenintendi@cascadiadaily.com; 360-922-3090 ext. 104.

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