Brooke Bonsen's development into the top softball player in the Northwest Conference couldn't have happened at a better time for Lynden's softball program.
Following the departure of 2011 state players Ivanna Lomas, Amanda Tapia, Lindsey Bergsma and Christie Visser, the Lions entered spring 2012 with plenty of question marks.
Who was capable of replacing Visser's dominance in the circle? How would a roster brimming with young talent be able to mesh together and improve as the season went along? Most importantly, how would the Lions be able to make a return trip to state?
Bonsen's play answered all those questions.
"I think she was a good pitcher for a young team to have," Lynden coach Steve Petersen said in a phone interview. "One thing you weren't doing was sitting back on your heels waiting. The ball was going to be in play, and you had to be ready. It made everyone better, and I think (Bonsen) was able to pull the best out of everyone, because you were going to get a lot of good action (in the field)."
Bonsen didn't overpower hitters with her stuff. She didn't average 10-plus strikeouts a game. She did, however, put together a record of 19-5 with an ERA of 1.88 and led the Lions back to the Class 2A State Tournament.
For that, Bonsen has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Softball Player of the Year, and Petersen has been selected Coach of the Year after helping Lynden reach the state tournament for the second time in as many years.
Petersen, who's coached Bonsen since she was a seventh grader, said he knew his ace was a strong pitcher, but her performance far surpassed his expectations.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Petersen said. "If you would have told me that she'd go 13-7, I would say she had a good year. She's always been a competitive kid, but this year you looked at her and you saw a certain toughness."
Bonsen displayed a calm, unwavering demeanor even the most inexperienced players could take comfort in, which proved to be a perfect fit for a Lynden team touting just two seniors.
"It's just natural," said Bonsen of her level-headed attitude in the pitching circle. "I love it. I've always wanted to be the leader of a group. Knowing I'm the one who starts the play every game is a cool feeling."
Bonsen couldn't pin point why she's able to stay relaxed under pressure, but Petersen said the trait benefited the team and played a major role in Bonsen's success.
"What most impresses you about Brooke is if you look just at her, you never know the score of the game or what the last play was," Petersen said. "You don't know whether she gave up three hits, struck out three in a row or three errors were committed in a row. She is the first one to say, 'Hey, how many outs are there? Let's get on to the next play.' She's just a great teammate, and she's the type of kid a team rallies behind."
Even Bonsen realized how unique it was that Lynden's young team was able to quickly form a strong collective bond.
"We really felt like we clicked together," Bonsen said. "There was no drama, and it was neat how girls from choir and band and the (other) sports girls were all able to come together."
More impressive than Bonsen's poise and ability to lead were the improvements she made from 2011 to 2012.
Bonsen compiled a 2-4 record pitching under Visser as a sophomore, but she added 17 more wins in a much more prominent role during her junior campaign. She also added a number of effective pitches to her arsenal.
"I have to give props to (Whatcom County area softball coach) Tim Esposito," Bonsen said. "I worked with him in the offseason and also (Western Washington University softball coach) Amy Suiter."
Bonsen developed a curveball, riseball, dropball and changeup to go along with her fastball. But she said the most important pitching tool she developed was increased confidence.
"Confidence was a big thing for me," Bonsen said. "I felt like during volleyball I kind of had to be a leader, so when softball came around, I knew I had to step it up because it's my sport."
Not only was Bonsen a standout in the circle, she thrived at the plate, as well. Batting cleanup for the Lions, she finished with a .435 batting average, although Petersen said she hit better than .500 most of the season. Bonsen drove in 33 runs, had 11 doubles and tallied three home runs.
Bonsen said the time spent in the pitching circle ultimately benefited her at the plate.
"I can see spins on the ball really well, and I understand pitching tactics," Bonsen said. "I can say this pitch is going to be a strike, this pitch is going to be a ball."
Bonsen is hosting a pitching clinic this summer as part of her senior project, and encourages kids to attend.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
ALL-WHATCOM COUNTY TEAM
SOFTBALL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2012: Brooke Bonsen, Lynden
2011: Austin Wilkerson, Sehome
2010: Austin Wilkerson, Sehome
2009: Erika Ramstead, Nooksack Valley
2008: Erika Ramstead, Nooksack Valley
2007: Sydney Qualey, Ferndale
2006: Suni Dillard, Nooksack Valley
This is the second in a series of packages honoring the standout student-athletes of the 2012 high school spring sports season. The All-Whatcom County teams and Athletes of the Year are selected by the Sports staff of The Bellingham Herald. Here is a look at the dates this season's teams will run:
Girls' tennis: Bella Hoyos, Bellingham
Boys' soccer: Heath Sowers, Ferndale
Softball: Brooke Bonsen, Lynden
Baseball: Coming June 10
Girls' golf: Coming June 14
Boys' golf: Coming June 15
Girls' track and field: Coming June 16
Boys' track and field: Coming June 17
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.