It wasn’t the perfect ending … but it was really, really close.
The Lynden girls basketball team capped the best season in school history with another dominating performance in the Class 2A state title game, cruising to a 60-38 victory over West Valley of Spokane on Saturday, March 7, to win the state championship going away.
Amid the post-game celebrating, the photos and selfies of every player with the gold ball trophy, and the smiles as each girl cut down the net, there was another emotion for a team that loved to be together.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Lynden coach Rob Adams after leading the Lions to the third state crown in school history. “When I get up tomorrow, I know I won’t see them any more. This team has always been about family and love all year long, and it culminated with a state championship.
“It’s amazing. It’s perfect.”
Of all the cheering by the Lynden faithful who packed the SunDome, the loudest roar of the night wasn’t for a Lynden basket or even the final buzzer. It came when senior Ashtyn Van Dalen entered the game in the final minute.
The fan favorite and recent TV star took a couple of shots, but wasn’t able to finish her memorable career by scoring in the state championship game. Of course, it didn’t matter to her … she still had the biggest smile on the team.
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Of course, they all were smiling perhaps the biggest smiles of their lives, especially the six seniors.
Keylie Hershey, Ruby VanderHaak, Liv Tjoelker, Keyna Holleman, Alexis Holman and Van Dalen had made it their mission to win the state championship after losing in the quarterfinals last year.
And how were they feeling after finally reaching their goal?
“I can’t put it into words,” said VanderHaak, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“It was worth it,” said Hershey, who played as a freshman on Lynden’s last state championship team in 2017. “But it’s bittersweet. You always want one more game together.”
True, but the games they had together were quite remarkable. The Lions finished the season 27-1, and roared through the best the Class 2A state tournament had to offer.
They beat West Valley in regionals by 12, clobbered the tournament’s co-favorite Ellensburg by 18 in the quarterfinals, and dominated Northwest Conference rival Burlington-Edison in the semis by 25.
And if the Eagles thought they could stand in the way of this Lynden team on a mission, sorry.
The Lions took command early. Hershey heated up with six points in the first couple of minutes, VanderHaak tossed in two of her “dagger” 3-pointers, and when Anna VanderYacht banked in a 3-pointer with two seconds left in the first quarter, the Lions were up, 18-12, and rolling.
Then they stopped rolling … and scoring. Flustered by their own cold shooting and West Valley’s defense, the Lions scored two points in the second quarter. Yes, two.
Of course, their amazingly stingy defense also held West Valley to only three points. Yup, three.
“Defense wins championships,” reminded Hershey. “That’s good when you’ve played your most inefficient quarter of the season.”
So what did Adams say for his inspirational halftime speech?
“He just reminded us that it’s just another game, and to just go out and play,” said Tjoelker. “So we went out like it was just another game.”
And the Lions went out and treated the second best Class 2A team like they’d treated almost every other team they’d faced this year, putting up 20 points in both the third and fourth quarters.
Hershey started it all. She stole a pass and went in for a layup, hit two 3-pointers, and drove to the bucket, and halfway through the third the lead was double digits.
Another Hershey 3-pointer, a VanderHaak layup after an WNBA-worthy fake, and a Tjoelker 3-pointer and — boom! — the lead was suddenly 17 going into the fourth period.
And there was never a doubt that the game was over. The seniors made sure of it by sealing the deal down the stretch.
Tjoelker and VanderHaak both went 4-for-4 from the line and Hershey was 2-for-2, and it was appropriate that all three made the all-tournament team.
And all that was left was for the crowd to give a standing ovation and begin chanting, “We want Ashtyn!”
“That was the final touch on an amazing year,” said Adams of getting Van Dalen into the game. “That speaks to the whole experience.”
Stats never tell the whole story, but they were still impressive. Hershey finished with 22 points, going an incredible 4-of-5 from the 3-point line. Tjoelker had 15 points and VanderHaak 12 and a team-high 4 assists.
Junior post Faith Baar, who was literally the biggest difference from last year’s fourth-place team to this year’s state championship team, had 6 points and a team-high 6 rebounds.
But this was indeed a team win and a team championship. So take a bow, Alexis Holman, Liv Tjoelker, Anna VanderYacht, Adia Newcomb, Faith Baar, Madison Canales, Keylie Hershey, Keyna Holleman, Ashtyn VanDalen, Ruby VanderHaak, Ashlyn Alexander and Riley Anderson.
You are state champions. Mission accomplished.
Tournament tidbits: Joining VanderHaak on the all-tournament first team were Alyssa Amann and Hailey Marlow of West Valley, Natalie Sumrok of Tumwater, and Ashlynn Sylve of East Valley of Yakima. Joining Hershey and Tjoelker on the second team were Emilia Long of Port Angeles, Kaelyn Smith of Ellensburg, Amey Rainaud-Hinds of Burlington-Edison, Karina Hibbit of East Valley and Aubrey Amendala of Tumwater. … Lynden’s Ashtyn Van Dalen was featured on KOMO-TV. Check out the station’s website: https://komonews.com/news/erics-heroes. You can also read her story at https://www.whatcomhoops.com/lynden-senior-making-a-difference-on-remarkable-team/.
Lynden 60, West Valley (Spokane) 38
Lynden 18 2 20 20—60
West Valley (Spokane) 12 3 8 15—38
Lynden: Alexis Holman, Liv Tjoelker 15, Anna VanderYacht 3, Adia Newcomb, Faith Baar 6, Madison Canales 2, Keylie Hershey 22, Keyna Holleman, Ashtyn Van Dalen, Ruby VanderHaak 12, Ashlyn Alexander, Riley Anderson.
West Valley (Spokane): Hailey Marlow 15, Nevaeh Sherwood 7, Jillian Taylor 4, Alyssa Amann 4, Aliyah Henry 3, Belle DeBoer 2, Madison Moloney 3, Lea McGlothlen, Abbie Sicilia, Sydney Finke, Rylen Palmer, Madison Carr.
Class 2A Girls State Tournament
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4
Port Angeles 68, Clarkston 58 (loser out)
Ellensburg 73, Liberty (Issaquah) 52 (loser out)
East Valley 44, White River 44 (loser out)
West Valley (Spokane) 67, Black Hills 36 (loser out)
THURSDAY, MARCH 5
Burlington-Edison 50, Port Angeles 45
Lynden 62, Ellensburg 44
Tumwater 43, East Valley (Yakima) 38
West Valley (Spokane) 44, W.F. West 43
FRIDAY, MARCH 6
Ellensburg 52, Port Angeles 46 (loser out)
East Valley (Yakima) 52, W.F. West 41 (loser out)
Lynden 53, Burlington-Edison 28
West Valley (Spokane) 43, Tumwater 40
SATURDAY, MARCH 7
East Valley (Yakima) 55, Ellensburg 54 (winner fourth, loser sixth)
Tumwater 62, Burlington-Edison 38 (winner third, loser fifth)
Lynden 60, West Valley (Spokane) 38 (winner first, loser second)
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.