The Lynden and Meridian girls basketball programs take pride in their defense, but nobody expected this.
The Lions and Trojans completely shut down each other in a defensive struggle that saw visiting Lynden hold off Meridian, 35-30, in their Northwest Conference showdown Friday night, Dec. 17.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Meridian coach Bree Park, whose squad fell to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in NWC play. “Defense wins games. But it also wasn’t our best night shooting.”
It wasn’t a good night shooting for either team, which was surprising. Coming into Friday’s game, the Trojans had averaged 70 points in their four victories. The Lions were right behind, averaging 68.3 points in their three wins.
But both teams unleashed aggressive man-to-man defenses that would have made the Legion of Boom proud. Neither squad managed to score more than eight points in any of the first three quarters and the two totaled one 3-pointer each going into the final period.
“Defensively, we’re doing what we want to do,” said Lynden coach Vic Wolffis, whose team improved two 4-1 overall and 4-0 on league. “But we’re inexperienced and it shows against a good defensive team.”
The only player who seemed impervious to the pressure was Lynden’s Haylee Koetje. The sophomore guard had 11 of the Lions’ 15 first-half points and finished with a game-high 17 points.
“That’s what we were focused on — locking in on defense,” said Koetje, whose 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter gave Lynden an eight-point lead and momentum. “They (the Trojans) were really tough on defense. But it was such a team win for us.”
Lynden junior Adia Newcomb hit a 3-pointer with 2:55 to go to put the Lions up 31-21. But the Trojans weren’t done yet. Sophomore Allie Richter came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer with a minute and a half left and senior Ellie DeWaard hit a step-back 3 with 27 seconds left. Suddenly Meridian was only down by three.
But in the final 16 seconds, sophomore Mallary Villars sank one free throw and junior Chloe Wittenberg sank another to ice the game for Lynden.
Newcomb finished with 8 points and Wittenberg with 6, but no other Lion scored more than four points.
For Meridian, senior Skyleigh James had a team-high 10 points and was tenacious on the boards, and junior Avery Neal added 7 points, but no other Trojan had more than three points.
“Both teams are really aggressive; it was pretty physical,” said James. “But I was proud of everyone. We want to keep building and use this to get better.”
Besides outstanding defense, the game also featured an emotional element with the return of Wolffis to the Meridian gym, where he coached the Trojans last season with Park as his assistant.
While the two competitors certainly wanted to beat the other, there were only compliments between two friends after the game.
“Vic gave me the confidence to take this job,” said Park. “It was good to see him again.”
Wolffis said he was glad to get it out of the way, noting how difficult it was to coach against former assistants such as Park and Squalicum’s Ray Ootsey.
“I love the girls at Meridian,” he said. “And I told Bree she needed to be a head coach. She’s going to be a great one.”
Lynden’s next action is at home Saturday against Class 4A Eastlake in a 5:30 p.m. non-league game with the boys game following. Meridian has only one more contest before Christmas, a road game at Squalicum on Wednesday.
The Trojans received some bad news when it was announced that all-Whatcom Hoops guard Maris Baklund will miss her junior season with a knee injury she suffered in soccer.
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.