After hearing from their coach how they weren’t playing with enough spirit, the Lynden girls basketball team showed a lot of it — not to mention a lot of offense and defense — in defeating visiting Squalicum, 61-23, on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
“I’ve been waiting all year for them to play with that collective spirit,” said Lions coach Rob Adams, whose team ran its record to 13-0 and 6-0 in the Northwest Conference. “Tonight they played with a lot of team spirit.”
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With the bench — both substitutes and starters — cheering almost as much as the cheerleaders, and the players acknowledging their teammates’ every assist and great play, the Lions came out fired up and on fire, and were up by 25 at halftime.
“We were focusing on playing more as a team, playing for each other,” said guard Liv Tjoelker. “You could see us pointing at each other and talking more on the court.”
Tjoelker epitomized the Lions’ spirit when she took a Squalicum elbow to the chin and went down in a heap. But she immediately got up, shook off the hit and on the very next play fired up a 3-pointer.
“My eyes rolled in the back of my head,” said the senior, who had 10 points. “I tried to answer in a nice way.”
Ruby VanderHaak had the hot hand for the Lions with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and fellow senior Keylie Hershey added 12 points and a pair of 3-pointers.
For Squalicum (3-9 overall, 2-5 in the NWC), it was a case of too many mistakes against the Lions’ pressure defense and not enough confidence when they were open.
Leah Austin led the Storm with 9 points, but even leading scorers Grace Schroeder and Kali Haizlip could only manage 5 and 2 points, respectively.
“We’re our own worst enemy,” said Squalicum coach Ray Ootsey. “They’re not believing they can win. If they can overcome that ‘I can’t do it’ (mentality), then we can still accomplish our goals.”
For the Lions, the goals remain high. They are the No.1-ranked Class 2A team and co-leaders of the Northwest Conference with Lynden Christian. But they still have to face the NWC’s other top teams, including the Lyncs, before heading into the playoffs.
“This is their first time being the hunted instead of the hunter,” Adams said. “It’s taken us awhile to get used to that.”
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.