As a sophomore, Nooksack Valley guard Mariah Perry saw her season end after losing a winner-to-state game in the 2013 bi-district tournament.
Now in her senior year, she is looking to lead the Pioneers to their first state tournament appearance since the 2009-10 season with a win against Granger High School at the Class 2A State Tournament regionals on Saturday, Feb. 28, at Yakima Eisenhower High School.
Perry is one of two seniors on the team this season, and as the lone captain her leadership has been key in the Pioneers success this season.
“She’s been a four-year varsity player. Her understanding of the game as a point guard is good for someone her age,” Nooksack Valley coach Shane Wichers said in a phone interview. “She’s able to get us into our offense and does a lot for us on the court. It shows the amount of time she took to develop her skills.”
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Perry credits her leadership to the relationship she’s developed with her teammates.
“We’re all really good friends,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s not necessarily the in-the-game yelling or the ‘do this, do that,’ it’s the ongoing trust and friendship we have. I lead by example, but also by being a friend.”
Starting her last season off strong with a 20-point game against Squalicum and 16 points against Meridian, Perry showed she is a force to be reckoned with on the court. On any given night, someone for the Pioneers scores big. Some games it is Perry, other games it is her setting up her teammates for a big game.
“She has all the tools to do that as a point guard. She is happy getting the ball to the open person,” Wichers said. “When we are at our best is when we find the open person and Mariah likes to be that person.”
Nooksack Valley’s three posts: Emilia Gimmaka, Katrina Gimmaka and Brianna Turner make it easier for Perry to distribute the ball during games.
Opposing teams double-team the post to stop them, which gets her and Payton Linville open, Perry said.
“We spread out our threats,” she said. “When I’m pressured a lot it’s easy to get inside to the posts and if they double it’s easy to kick out.”
At the end of the season, the Pioneers found themselves in a three-game mini playoff with Mount Baker and Meridian to decide who would make the district tournament. Nooksack Valley wasn’t ready for its sesaon to end, as it had a goal to make it to state.
Nooksack Valley (16-9 overall, 5-7 NWC) ended up beating both the Trojans and the Mountaineers to make it to the district playoffs.
“We knew that we had to come out strong. The first game is what mattered most and we had to win that game,” Perry said. “We came out thinking we weren’t going to waste any minute.”
Wichers noted that the playoffs is all about confidence and defense, two things the team has talked about heading deeper into playoffs this season.
In the opening district playoff game, Perry finished with 17 points and seven assists. Brianna Turner had 17 points and the Pioneers held Sultan to 39 points, igniting Nooksack Valley’s run to the state regional round.
“It comes down to grit and heart,” Perry said. “Comes down to who wants it more. Coach tells us that on any given night, any team can win and that’s been our thought. We’ve been getting mentally prepared for each team.”
As the buzzer sounds Saturday afternoon, Perry’s career could be over or the team will be heading to its first state appearance in five years.
“When we leave the gym on Saturday, win or loss, we don’t want to leave anything out there. We want to give it our all,” Perry said.
Nooksack Valley will take on Granger in the Class 1A Regionals at noon on Saturday, Feb. 28, at Eisenhower High School.
“I’m excited for the kids. They’ve put in so much time and effort. They want to make it to Yakima next week for three more games,” Wichers said.