It doesn't matter how pretty the journey is - and at times, it's been quite ugly - the Lynden Christian girls' basketball team has only one goal: Get to next week.
The Lyncs will play Hoqiuam at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22, at Mount Vernon High School in the regional round of the Class 1A State Tournament with the hopes of making it on to the state quarterfinals in Yakima next week.
If they are to win and advance, LC will once again likely rely on what has gotten it this far - a stingy defense that coach Curt De Haan makes sure continues to improve each week.
"That's something that has been a trademark of the program for many years," De Haan said in a phone interview. "It's our focus and we have a great point guard in Makayla Lancaster that really sets the tone for us."
De Haan said the other two returning starters, Courtney Hollander and Kayla Tiemersma, also are very strong defensive players. Bringing the nucleus back from a team that placed third at state last season has helped set the tone, too.
De Haan said with those three leading the way, the other players have bought in and understand the importance of playing defense.
"I think the best leadership style is by example, and those three all step up in their own way each game," De Haan said. "They bring a lot of confidence to the rest of the team."
With their work ethic, commitment to the team concept and believing in each other, Lancaster, Tiemersma and Hollander have convinced the rest of the team they can go further this season.
"Defense has always been a huge thing for us, because defense wins games," Tiemersma said in a phone interview. "If you bust your butt on defense, than offense comes easier. We strive to be the best team on defense and stop the other team from scoring."
This season, the Lyncs allowed only 32.7 points per game during the regular season and have trimmed that number to just 26.0 points per game during their five postseason games.
In their 51-36 victory over Cascade Christian in the 1A tri-district championship game on Saturday, Feb. 16, they held the Cougars to 4-for-21 shooting in the first half to open up a nearly insurmountable 36-13 lead by the break. The Lyncs also managed to hold Cascade Christian's Kaycee Creech to just two free throws through the first three quarters.
Seven days earlier in the Northwest District championship game, LC held King's to 18 points on 5-of-47 shooting and forced 28 turnovers in another impressive win that may have lacked style points but certainly not grit and determination.
Tiemersma, the only senior on the team, credits this season's success to continuity, as the Lyncs lost just two players from last year's squad and have been able to add pieces that fit naturally.
"Having the three of us return from last season as starters really helped us this year," said Tiemersma, who is the only senior listed on the Lyncs' roster. "We connected very well, and we worked really well, so to add two more players was really simple."
But Tiemersma did recognize that the youth of the team also has been a focal point for improvement. She said something the team has been challenged with is understanding how each other play.
Lancaster agreed that having players that were able to experience state last season has helped on both ends of the court and particularly on defense.
"Defense is one of our strengths and we have a good bench, too," Lancaster, a sophomore, said in a phone interview. "We always focus on working our hardest and playing as a team."
Lancaster is charged with taking a lot of the pressure off the rest of her team on both ends of the court.
Tiemersma said being able to rely on Lancaster eases a lot of pressure off the rest of the team and allows them to focus on getting in the right position.
"Nobody works harder on defense than Makayla," Tiemersma said. "She makes it so hard for the other teams to get their offense going and on offense she can dribble it in and you know she is going to do the right thing."
The Lyncs know that if they can continue to improve on the defensive end, no team can stand in their way in getting back to the state quarterfinals, which is something the team has dreamed about since the beginning of the year.
"The fact that I have a chance to get back to state is amazing, and I want to be able to experience that with these girls," Tiemersma said. "It is so fun to play in the dome in Yakima and the fact that I hopefully get to do it again is wonderful."
Reach Kyle Elliott at email@example.com or 360-715-2271.
THIS WEEKEND'S REGIONAL ROUND
FRIDAY, FEB. 22
CLASS 2A GIRLS
At Lynden High School
Cedarcrest vs. Port Angeles, 6 p.m.
Olympic vs. Burlington-Edison 8 p.m.
CLASS 1A GIRLS
At Mount Vernon High School
Woodland vs. Cascade Christian, 6 p.m.
Hoquiam vs. Lynden Christian, 8 p.m.
At Chehalis W.F. West
King's vs. Montesano, 6 p.m.
Blaine vs. Castle Rook, 8 p.m.
SATURDAY FEB. 23
CLASS 2A BOYS
At Lynden High School
Burlington-Edison vs. White River, 4 p.m.
Sumner vs. Lynden, 6 p.m.
CLASS 1A BOYS
At Mount Vernon High School
LaCenter vs. Cedar Park Christian, 4 p.m.
Hoquiam vs. Lynden Christian, 6 p.m.
At Chehalis W.F. West
King's vs. Kalama, 4 p.m.
Mount Baker vs. Toledo, 6 p.m.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN ROSTER
No. Player Yr. Ht. Pos. G Pts. Avg.
10. Makayla Lancaster So. 5-5 G 24 105 4.4
12. Haley Hollander Fr. 5-9 G 13 6 0.5
15. Kara Bajema Fr. 5-11 F 25 142 5.7
21. Courtney Hollander Jr. 5-11 G 25 168 6.7
22. Sally Vlas Jr. 5-6 G 22 142 6.5
24. Kassidy Aldrich So. 5-5 G 19 100 5.3
30. Karley De Jager Jr. 6-0 P 25 178 7.1
33. Sara Dougan So. 6-3 P 24 81 3.4
34. Emma Stump Fr. 5-9 F 18 29 1.6
43. Carli Tjoelker Fr. 5-10 F 16 18 1.1
44. Kayla Tiemersma Sr. 6-0 P 25 246 9.8
45. Morgan Van Kooten So. 5-11 P 17 44 2.6
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN RESULTS
Coach: Curt De Haan
NWC finish: Second (1-2)
Seed: No. 1 out of District 1/2/3
Nov. 29 at Sehome W 51-34
Nov. 30 King's W 49-46
Dec. 4 at Ferndale L 56-49
Dec. 7 Gleneagle W 60-19
Dec. 11 at Burlington-Edison W 56-38
Dec. 14 at Blaine* W 38-36
Dec. 17 Bellingham* W 65-33
Dec. 21 at Mount Baker* W 62-24
Dec. 27 Cashmere W 48-47
Dec. 28 Bellevue Christian W 65-31
Jan. 3 Burlington-Edison* L 43-40
Jan. 7 at Anacortes* W 56-33
Jan. 11 at Lynden* W 50-27
Jan. 14 Ferndale* L 47-44
Jan. 19 at Friday Harbor W 67-16
Jan. 22 Sedro-Woolley* W 61-19
Jan. 24 at Meridian* W 46-8
Jan. 26 Nooksack Valley* W 38-37
Jan. 29 at Squalicum* W 72-28
Feb. 1 Sehome* W 47-31
CLASS 1A NORTHWEST DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Feb. 4 Coupeville W 55-18
Feb. 6 Nooksack Valley W 43-37
Feb. 8 King's W 45-18
CLASS 1A TRI-DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Feb. 15 University Prep W 63-21
Feb. 16 Cascade Christian W 51-36
Coach: Chad Allan
Evergreen League finish: Second (9-4)
Seed: No. 4 out of District 4
Nov. 27 Ocosta W 60-9
Nov. 29 Aberdeen L 48-28
Dec. 3 South Bend W 50-29
Dec. 4 at Centralia W 47-41
Dec. 10 North Beach W 54-36
Dec. 14 Rainier W 58-52
Dec. 21 Rochester W 50-36
Dec. 28 Morton/White Pass L 47-33
Dec. 29 at Raymond L 55-20
Jan. 2 at Tenino W 47-14
Jan. 4 Montesano W 34-30
Jan. 8 Elma L 49-35
Jan. 10 at Forks W 57-54
Jan. 15 at Rainier L 61-56
Jan. 17 Aberdeen W 64-56
Jan. 18 Forks W 45-28
Jan. 22 at Rochester L 46-40
Jan. 25 Tenino W 57-19
Jan. 29 Montesano L 60-54
Jan. 31 at Elma W 54-50
CLASS 1A SOUTHWEST DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Feb. 8 LaCenter W 51-48
Feb. 12 Castle Rock L 46-32
Feb. 14 Rochester W 42-33
Feb. 16 Woodland L 56-43