Almost all of the Lynden boys basketball team was in the stands a year ago when the Lions varsity team was thumped by Lynden Christian. But this year, they were on the court when the Lions did the thumping.
Lynden won its 15th straight game by beating the Lyncs for the first time in three years, 74-62, in a boisterous LC gym Friday night, Jan. 31.
“It feels good; it’s been three years,” said Lynden senior Brock Heppner, a key member of Lynden’s back-to-back state championship teams.
Lynden and Lynden Christian joined together Friday night in the Coaches vs. Cancer game to raise awareness and funds for the battle against the disease. Cancer survivors Savonne Sterk, a Lynden student-athlete, and Layne Brennick, the Lynden Christian boys C team coach, shared their emotional stories with the crowd before the game and were named honorary coaches for their teams.
The victory wasn’t just big because it was a rivalry game or because players from both teams were friends and teammates on select teams. It was big because these were two of the best squads in the state with higher aspirations than just beating a rival.
Lynden Christian, which had its 10-game winning streak snapped, is now 13-4 overall and 9-2 in the NWC. The Lyncs are No.6 in the Class 1A RPI state rankings.
Lynden is now 15-1 overall, 9-0 in the Northwest Conference, and winner of 44 of its last 46 games going back two years. The Lions are No.3 in the latest Class 2A RPI state rankings.
All of which would be surprising from any other team that lost 10 seniors and only returned two reserves — except the team is Lynden and the returnees are Heppner and Liam Hanenburg.
Against the Lyncs, the 6-foot-11 Hanenburg had his way inside with 21 points and 15 rebounds, and Heppner, a 6-1 forward who can score inside and outside, had 19 points. The two helped Lynden to a 35-17 rebounding edge.
“The two of them are a great combination for sure,” said LC coach Roger DeBoer. “We tried super hard to take them away. We were going to make the other guys beat us … and they did.”
As they have all season, the Lions got big games from the “other guys.”
Jordan Medcalf and Clay Kochuten each had 8 points and two 3-pointers in clutch situations. Point guard Kaleo Janoc ran the offense and only had 5 points, but his 3-pointer and two free throws ended LC’s last threat when the Lyncs cut the margin to three with five minutes left.
“You never know who’s going to score,” said Heppner. “Now we’re a unit; we don’t care who scores.”
According to Lynden coach Brian Roper, it is that attitude that has helped turn a bunch of JV players into one of the best teams in the state.
“We’ve got good balance, and they are all learning to play hard,” said Roper. “We tell them, ‘Be a star in your role.’”
Nobody was more of a star in his role than the Lions’ Koby Whitman, who came off the bench to score 9 points and, more importantly, lead the defensive charge against the Lyncs’ dangerous outside shooters — Andrew DeVries and Jaden DeBoer.
Whitman shadowed DeVries, who already holds almost all of LC 3-point records, and while DeVries did score 16 points, he had to work hard for every shot.
“They (DeVries and DeBoer) were our main focus,” said Whitman, who was starting earlier in the season before suffering several injuries. “I just tried to never give him any space. It sounds simple when you say it…”
But it’s not so easy in real life. “You have to start guarding those two at halfcourt,” said Roper, whose team held a double-digit lead much of the game. “I didn’t feel safe until there was 20 seconds left (in the game).”
DeBoer finished with 19 points, 14 of them in the fourth quarter as the Lyncs tried to rally, and Zach Sipma had 10 points.
But the Lions countered LC’s 22-point fourth quarter with a 27 points of their own. And they sealed the game by making 12 of 15 free throws in the final period.
“The job they did defensively … that’s when you tip your hat to them,” said coach DeBoer of the Lions. “The world of basketball can be pretty simple. Defense and rebounding can win a lot of games, and they (the Lions) are built for that.”
Both teams are in action on Saturday. The Lyncs host Overlake in a non-league contest at 11 a.m. (yes, that’s 11 o’clock in the morning), and the Lions host Meridian in another key NWC contest at 7:15 p.m.