Nooksack Valley sophomore Kora Larson puts up a shot against Meridian during the Pioneers’ 45-36 opening-round victory in the Class 1A Hardwood Classic.(Nick Elges/Lynden Tribune)

Pioneers beat Meridian in opening round before losing to 1A powers 

YAKIMA — The Nooksack Valley girls basketball team made a return to the Class 1A Hardwood Classic this season, the first appearance at state for the program since taking fifth place in 2016. 

Things started off great for the No. 9 seed Pioneers, who took care of No. 8 seed and Northwest Conference rival Meridian 45-36  in the opening round on Feb. 28. It was Nooksack’s third victory over Meridian this season, having also won 56-54 on Jan. 27 and 53-46 in the district playoffs on Feb. 17.

Senior Katrina Gimmaka, recently named the conference’s Most Outstanding Player for the 2017-18 season, scored Nooksack’s first 11 points of the game to help the Pioneers take a 14-5 lead after one quarter. Behind a tough defense, Nooksack maintained that lead for most of the game.

The loss ended the season for Meridian (20-9), which finished fifth in the Northwest Conference during the regular season and reached state for a second straight year. Senior Kyrin Baklund led the Trojans with 13 points, and sophomore second-team all-league selection Jolee Sipma had 11 points. 

Gimmaka ended up with 24 points and nine rebounds as the Pioneers advanced to Thursday’s quarterfinal round against No. 2 Cashmere. That one didn’t go as well for Nooksack, as the Bulldogs jumped out to a big lead and held off the Pioneers’ second-half push for a 46-35 victory. 

Again, Gimmaka had a big performance with 17 points and 14 rebounds, but Cashmere sophomore Hailey Van Lith went off for 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists to propel the Bulldogs to the semifinals and drop Nooksack into the consolation bracket.

In a loser-out contest, the Pioneers were faced with another test in No. 4 Zillah. Once again, Gimmaka had a big game anad propelled Nooksack to 24-20 halftime lead with 16 points in the first two quarters. 

Zillah then took complete control, however, as the Leopards outscored Nooksack Valley 36-19 in the second half to win the game 58-43. Zillah’s Callie Delp had 20 points and Samantha Bowman added 15 to counteract Gimmaka’s game-high 25 points. 

Nooksack committed 28 turnovers in the Zillah loss, which ended their tourney run short of a top-six trophy. 

The Pioneers (20-9) finished fourth in the Northwest Conference this season. Senior starters Gimmaka, Brooke DeBeeld and Karley Stremler and reserve Kayleasha Davis graduate this June. 

“I think this team leaves a great legacy for next year and future years to follow,” said Nooksack Valley head coach Shane Wichers. “We played tough on offense and defense and continued to improve throughout the season. 

“This year’s seniors were great. They worked hard every day and did a marvelous job at doing whatever the team needed both in games and at practice. I’m sad to see them go.”

Junior Jenna Tenkley, sophomore Kora Larson and freshmen Maya Galley and Jenna Compton all played big minutes for the Pioneers at state and throughout the season and are expected to be the key returners for NV next season.