Talk about a dream come true. Olivia Berkan’s tears of joy told the tale.
“I’m overwhelmed! I actually had a dream about this last night. In the dream, I went up to my best friend (center Brianna Turner) after the game and shouted, ‘We’re going to state!’ ”
For the first time in the six seniors’ basketball careers, Nooksack Valley’s 47-39 win over La Center in a state regional loser-out game on Saturday, Feb. 27, gave Berkan and buddies the chance to shout about going to the Class 1A state tournament.
The Pioneers’ emotions on the floor at Battle Ground High School were real.
“From fifth grade through eighth grade, my mom (Susan Oettel) coached all six of us seniors in AAU basketball,” senior guard Arlissa Oettel said. “So Mom, this is for you from all of us!”
Nooksack (19-9), which is 6-1 in the postseason, limited La Center (21-3), the Trico League champion, to its lowest score of the season. But the Wildcats — who came in with 13 games of at least 60 points — were still nearly dream busters.
La Center pulled within 43-39 on Taylor Stephens‘ 3-pointer — the smallest deficit of an almost unbelievably intense second half — but Oettel, a 5-foot-8 guard, made a supreme effort to grab a rebound with 55 seconds left.
Oettel was immediately fouled and made two one-and-one free throws. Berkan — no dream, Olivia — hit both ends of a one-and-one with 40 seconds left for the game’s final points.
Fittingly, considering Nooksack surely played its best defensive game against a taller team, the Pioneers simply refused to allow an open shot in the next 30 seconds. That caused a La Center shot clock violation and the Pioneers and their fans were delirious over the game-clinching hustle.
Nooksack coach Shane Wichers and Oettel stressed that all 10 girls who played made major contributions.
The Pioneers needed all 10, because the 6-foot-1 Turner, their scoring and rebounding stalwart, played only the first five minutes of the opening half because she was whistled for her second foul.
“Brianna had foul trouble last year (in Nooksack’s regional loss) and we absolutely needed her for the second half,” Wichers said of Turner. She played the final two quarters without a foul but with great poise, shooting 3 for 4 from the field in the third quarter to finish with 10 points and grabbing six rebounds after halftime.
With Turner on the bench, junior reserve Rachel Sande more than doubled her scoring average with 10 points. In the first half, Sande made four of her first five shots, giving the Pioneers their largest lead at 23-9. In the fourth quarter, Sande capped a memorable effort with a steal and two free throws, giving Nooksack a 43-36 lead with 5:11 left.
What was “really huge,” as Wichers put it, was the way sophomore reserve Karley Stremler scrambled for an offensive rebound in the final seconds of the first half and passed to senior reserve Cassidy Zylstra for a buzzer-beater as the crowd went nuts.
The Pioneers, looking for all the world like they weren’t the least bit nervous, took an 8-0 lead on Turner’s layup on a pretty pass from freshman point guard Jenna Tenkley, Berkan’s 3-pointer — Nooksack’s only 3 — and a three-point play by Katrina Gimmaka on a shot off the glass.
Gimmaka sparked the first half with seven first-quarter points and seven first-half rebounds. Reserves Emilia Gimmaka and Jasmine Zavala also contributed qualify minutes.
“This was our most unselfish game,” said Oettel, who will learn Nooksack’s first state opponent Thursday in Yakima when the draw is conducted today. “They all did fantastic.”
“We have such a deep bench,” Turner said. “Rachel Sande really wanted it. She was just on fire.”
Wichers thanked his Northwest Conference rivals.
“We play in such a tough, tough conference,” he said. “I really could tell the girls, ‘You’re not going to see anything (in the playoffs) that you haven’t seen before.’ ”
Nooksack Valley goes on to the Class 1A state tournament March 3-5 at the SunDome in Yakima. The bracket is yet to be announced.
Nooksack Valley 47, La Center 39
Nooksack Valley: Brianna Turner 10, Arlissa Oettel 7, Katrina Gimmaka 7, Olivia Berkan 5, Jenna Tenkley 3, Rachel Sande 10, Emilia Gimmaka 1, Jasmine Zavala 2, Cassidy Zylstra 2, Karley Stremler 0. Total: 47.
La Center: Andrea Griffee 11, Taylor Stephens 9, Bethany Whitten 3, Taylor Mills 6, Shelby Vermeulen 0, Ashley Denney 7, Molly Edwards 3, Laynie Erickson 0, Whitley Seter 0. Total: 39.