Scoring six or seven points a game used to excite Sehome senior wing Hallie Messenger. Double-figure outputs have become more customary these days.
Mariners basketball coach Kim Kirk has seen firsthand the improvements Messenger has made on the hardwood in a year, and Kirk hasn't been surprised. It was on the softball diamond last spring where Messenger began blossoming into the strong leader, teammate and key player she is.
"Just watching her grow on the softball field last spring, she really stepped up into that leadership role," said Kirk, who's also on Sehome's softball coaching staff. "That has carried over to her success on the basketball floor."
Messenger starred in the outfield and, as a team captain, helped the Mariners clinch a Class 2A State Tournament berth.
She played a seventh-man role on last year's state basketball team, averaging two points per game. She enjoyed a season-high 10 points in a late-season contest against Squalicum. Kirk estimated Messenger averaged 12 to 14 minutes. This year, she's averaging 27 to 28 minutes.
The Sehome senior has helped the Mariners overcome the loss of four starters to graduation, alleviated pressure onstandout Rachel Albert and is a key reason Sehome owns an 8-5 record and a 4-1 Northwest Conference mark.
She's improved on last year's scoring average by 7.6 points per game and ranks in the top 20 among Northwest Conference scoring leaders with a 9.6 average.
"Last year was very different," Messenger said in a phone interview. "I was playing our seventh man, and I came down with mono, so I was out for three or four games. It took me a while to gain my strength back. I just tried to focus on the team as a whole by staying positive."
Messenger's strength this year has, well, been one of her biggest strengths. Though she plays mostly along the perimeter, her physical ability allows Kirk to occasionally play her senior in the post.
Kirk said her team completed a boot-camp-style training regimen during the summer, and since Messenger doesn't play a fall sport, she stayed with the program into late fall.
"They were really hard," Messenger said of the workouts. "They were with Lex Bannister. He's an ex-NFL player. (The workouts) just had the mentality to get me going. I could see the results in my body and my daily life as a player and a person. ... I got a few more shots in once the season got closer. It gave me more confidence."
Last year's talented seniors Jessica Bertucci, Haley Smith, Jori Hall and Ana Miksovsky absorbed many of Sehome's available minutes. Their court time, coupled with Messenger's mid-season illness, made it tough for Kirk to get her second player off the bench court time.
Messenger's patience and team-first attitude has paid off in a big way.
Six games into the 2012-13 season, Messenger had her breakout moment in a Dec. 8 road game against Marysville-Pilchuck. It was the fifth year in a row Sehome and Marysville faced each other, and Marysville won the previous four meetings.
Messenger converted four straight 3-pointers in the first quarter and finished with a team-high 18 points. More importantly for Messenger, her Mariners finally handed Marysville a loss.
"We played Marysville for four years, and none of our seniors could beat them," Kirk said. "Hallie was unconscious. She hit four 3s, and I think the lights turned on for her, and she starting thinking, 'Hey, I can do this, and I have the confidence.'"
Messenger said the game served as a good launching pad for the rest of this season.
"I think I would agree with Kirk," she said. "It was a breakout moment for me. Each shot kind of got me going. Each one I made. We've never beat (Marysville). Knowing I contributed to the win, not just by being positive, but by putting points on the board to help my team, was an awesome feeling."
Since Messenger's 18-point game, she's had outings of 10, 17, 13 and a season-high 20 points in a Jan. 8 win over Mount Baker, in which she accounted for nearly half of Sehome's 45 points.
Kirk praised her wing, who spends 20 percent of her minutes playing in the post, for always trying to make the team better. During the Lynden Christmas Classic holiday basketball tournament, Messenger asked Kirk what more she could work on. Kirk talked to her senior about crashing the offensive boards, and since, Messenger has developed into one of the Mariners' top rebounders.
It's one of Kirk's many compliments of Messenger and Sehome's seniors in general.
"Hallie is definitely one of those main reasons," said Kirk of how the Mariners have compiled their strong record. "Really all those seniors on the floor for us have done an excellent job of really teaching our young kids what it takes at this level. That's through their hard work and putting everything you have into drills. ... Not only is (Messenger) continually gaining confidence on the offensive end of the floor, she has stepped up as a leader on the floor directing traffic both offensively and defensively."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.