If the Lynden girls basketball team wanted to see where it stands against the best in the state, the Lions will get their chance when they square off against defending state champion W.F. West in the Class 2A state regionals on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Mount Vernon High School.
But Lynden vs. W.F. West at state is nothing new. The two schools have played each other four of the past five years, including last year’s 56-43 Bearcats’ victory in regionals. In fact, one of the two teams has won state the past two years and been in the state championship game every year since 2013.
So while it is no surprise that the top-ranked Lions (20-3) and the eighth-ranked Bearcats of Chehalis (17-6) are back at it again, especially with most of last year’s squads returning, what is somewhat shocking is how well they’ve done despite the adversity they’ve faced.
For previews of all the state regional games involving our Whatcom County teams, be sure to keep checking www.whatcomhoops.com.
For Lynden, it was losing 6-foot center Faith Baar, the only starter taller than 5-foot-8, at the start of the season to a knee injury forcing the Lions to basically become a team of run-and-gun guards who play in-your-face defense.
For W.F. West, it was losing their 6-3 senior center Erika Brumfield in the very first game of the season to — yes, you guessed it — a knee injury. But after losing four of their first seven to some tough non-league foes, the Bearcats went on a 10-game winning streak before losing in last weekend’s district championship game.
The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the state quarterfinals in Yakima on Thursday, Feb. 28. The loser also will move on to the SunDome but will have to play a loser-out game on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Here’s a look at both teams:
W.F. West scouting report: Even without Brumfield, the Bearcats are tall with 6-footers Madi Haakenson and Drew Brumfield, Erika’s “little” sister, both averaging close to double figures in scoring and rebounding. W.F. West also is experienced, physical and usually plays its best at the end of the season — witness two state championships and four state finals appearances in the past six years.
Lynden scouting report: The Lions are just as experienced, physical and clutch and despite none of their top eight players being over 5-8, have overcome being “height challenged” to win the uber tough Northwest Conference and the District 1/2 title. Leading the way are the “Three Stooges” (as coach Rob Adams fondly calls them), who are no laughing matter to the Lions’ opponents. Keylie Hershey averages 15.7 points a game, Ruby VanderHaak bombs in another 11, and Liv Tjoelker adds 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds a game — not bad for a point guard. But the Lions’ strength is their deep bench, which allows them to press and run teams into the ground.
Lynden coach Rob Adams: “We’ve made our biggest strides playing defense collectively. It’s not one person getting a stop, it’s everyone getting a stop. Because we’re so height-challenged, we’re at our best when we hang tough together. That’s our mantra — ‘tougher together’ — and it’s shown the last couple of games.”
Game outlook: While the Lions are looking forward to the game, this will be a tough test because of the matchup problems with the bigger Bearcats. Of course, you could say that about almost every team Lynden has played this year and yet the Lions are so mentally and physically tough that they’ve overcome that weakness. The big key will be if their 3-point shots are going down. If so, you can chalk up another big win for the Little Lions.
CLASS 2A GIRLS STATE TOURNAMENT
(With RPI seedings)
#11 Foster (20-4) vs. #14 Sequim (16-7) at Auburn (Mountainview) High School, 8 p.m. (loser out)
#2 East Valley (Spokane) (19-3) vs. #7 Washougal (19-4) at University High School, noon
#3 Clarkston (22-2) vs. #6 Port Angeles (20-3) at Richland High School, 2 p.m.
#4 White River (23-3) vs. #5 Archbishop Murphy (19-3) at Puyallup High School, 2 p.m.
#9 Burlington-Edison (19-4) vs. #16 Renton (16-11) at Everett Community College, 4 p.m. (loser out)
#12 Grandview (18-5) vs. #13 Black Hills (16-8) at Davis High School, 2 p.m. (loser out)
#10 Anacortes (15-8) vs. #15 North Kitsap (16-8) at Mount Vernon High School, 4 p.m. (loser out)
#1 Lynden (20-3) vs. #8 W.F. West (17-6) at Mount Vernon High School, 6 p.m.
(Full schedule and bracket at nwcathletics.com)
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.