Every league coach talks about how difficult the Northwest Conference schedule is, and responsible for its difficulty are the 13 teams’ players and veteran coaches. Each year the league schedule’s grind separates the state contenders from the rest of the crowd, produces memorable moments and allows top-flight players to show off their skill.
With the league slate ending last Tuesday, and before the postseason ramps up, here’s a recap of the teams, players and some moments that made the 2015-16 regular season memorable.
Lynden reigns supreme
Lions football coach Curt Kramme may disagree, but Lynden is a basketball town, and the Lions and Lyncs only further established that this winter. Both went 11-1 in league play, earning a split of the Northwest Conference title. Lynden beat Lynden Christian on Jan. 21, but league ADs agreed head-to-head games are irrelevant in determining league champions.
Lynden Christian became the first 1A school to ever win a NWC title, and three league losses was the fewest any 1A team had logged in league play before this winter. Lynden won its third title in the past four seasons.
And for what it’s worth, Lynden Christian finished No. 1 in the final Associated Press Prep Boys’ Basketball Poll, and Lynden finished No. 2 in Class 2A.
Scoring title goes to ...
There was no better offensive player this year than Lynden Christian 6-foot-1 senior guard Zach Roetcisoender. Whether it was his 3-point shooting, mid-range game or ability to get to the basket and finish, Roetcisoender can flat-out score and did so all season long.
From start to finish he paced the league in scoring and finished averaging 23.1 points per game, which was 3.9 points more than Lynden’s Sterling Somers, who averaged 19.2 points.
Roetcisoender scored less than 20 points only five times. Three times he surpassed 30 points and scored a season-high 39 during a Dec. 22 60-51 win over King’s Way Christian.
Game of the year
Whether it be Lynden Christian’s wild comeback to beat Squalicum 84-82 on the road in overtime or two months later Lynden’s nail-biting 71-68 road win over rival Lynden Christian, there is no wrong answer here.
But I’ll give the nod goes to the LC-Squalicum game, simply due to how improbable the Lyncs’ comeback was.
Lynden Christian trailed by nine points with 21 seconds left before Tanner Bouma and Zach Roetcisoender trimmed the lead to three with 3.2 seconds left in regulation. Bouma got open on an out-of-bounds play and drilled a baseline triple at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
Squalicum and Lynden Christian exchanged blows during overtime, but Grant Rubbert converted a game-winning layup with 6 seconds left to cap arguably the season’s most amazing comeback.
“We knew we were on house money, and it just worked,” Lynden Christian coach Roger DeBoer said after the game. “It's one of those amazing games. The never-say-die, or never-quit that these guys have is pretty cool.”
Between Burlington-Edison, Sehome, Bellingham, Sedro-Woolley and Blaine, who would of thought the Borderites at the beginning of the year would be going to the 2A District Tournament with the other three teams on the outside looking in.
Blaine finished 10-10 with a 5-7 league record and much credit should be given to coach Shaun Pile and his group. Led by big man Shaq Woods, Kier Munzanreder and freshman point guard Ben Adams, who should be a fun watch in the years to come, Blaine has done what its needed to do to reach postseason play beating Sedro-Woolley, Bellingham, Meridian, Nooksack Valley and Burlington-Edison.
The next step will be reaching the regional round of state, but a first-round game against Lynden won’t be easy.
The All-Northwest Conference team is on its way and the All-Whatcom County team will follow, but if there was an optimal starting five composed of Northwest Conference players, here’s what it’d look like.
Damek Mitchell, Squalicum, guard: Mitchell gives a team everything you would want in an ideal point guard. He runs the offense like a floor general, is a game-changer on defense with his heady play and active hands and can score in myriad ways. He averaged 15.8 points per game.
Zach Roetcisoender, Lynden Christian, guard: Roetcisoender is a pure scorer, and is a player any coach or team would love to have. His 23.1 point per game average was tops in the league.
Sterling Somers, Lynden, guard: It’d be hard to argue against Roetcisoender as the league’s MVP, but Somers has to be the No. 1 contender. Besides averaging 19.2 points per game, Somers contributed in seemingly every other statistical category. He was two rebounds away from a triple-double during a win against Ferndale.
Austin Honeycutt, Ferndale, forward: Honeycutt has provided nothing but consistency for the Golden Eagles. He is good for 8-to-10 rebounds a game and is averaging 16.9 points. He has a nice mid-range game and can finish in the paint.
Timothy Soares, Mount Baker, forward: Although Soares is following in his dad’s footsteps and attending NAIA school Masters College next year, he is a legit Division I talent. The 6-foot-10 senior was nearly unguardable. He averaged 16.9 points per game.
Next five: Connor Beard (Nooksack Valley), guard; Josiah Westbrook (Squalicum), guard; Leighton Kingma (Sehome), guard/forward; Shaq Woods (Blaine), forward; Jake Poag (Lynden Christian), guard.
Here is a look at how the NWC scoring race ended with the league’s top 15 scorers