It's difficult enough to try to stop Lynden Christian standout post Isaac Reimer, who has averaged a double-double over his four-year career with the Lyncs. But imagine trying to do it while giving up 6 inches to him.
That's the challenge that senior Nathan Meppelink faces nearly every day in practice - not because he's assigned to, but because he asks for it.
Then again, Meppelink has never backed down from a challenge. In fact, Lynden Christian coach Roger De Boer simply describes him with one word - "warrior."
"The one thing you never have to worry about in any practice or any game is what type of effort you're going to get from Nate," De Boer said in a phone interview. "He is just a joy to watch compete. He has such a great competitive nature. He plays so very hard on each and every possession."
Meppelink's next opportunity to show that warrior mentality will come on Thursday, Feb. 28, when he and the Lyncs take on Cashmere in the Class 1A state quarterfinals at the Yakima Valley SunDome. It will be the second time the two teams have met this season, as LC won a Dec. 27 classic by three points.
Meppelink said he has brought his competitive attitude with him to the gym every day as long as he's been playing basketball. In fact, he learned it from some pretty good role models while growing up in Canada.
"Some of the guys I first started playing basketball with were Division-I caliber guys," Meppelink said in a phone interview, referring to former Portland State forward Tyrell Mara and current Seattle University guard Emerson Murray. "They taught me that in order to be good and talented and succeed in this game, you need to put the time in the gym."
Playing with former Lyncs standouts Tyler and Kyle Coston on an AAU team further convinced Meppelink of that fact - as well as to transfer to Lynden Christian after his freshman year at White Rock Christian - and he's been showing that determination ever since.
"You see guys that made it, and you just trust their word," Meppelink said. "I wanted to emulate those guys."
And now, others are starting to emulate Meppelink, who said he has received an offer to play basketball from Trinity Western and is waiting to see if some U.S. schools show some interest.
"It's a habit for him to work hard," De Boer said. "He does it in his own individual workouts, in every practice, in every game. It's just who he is. He takes a tremendous amount of pride in working hard, and I believe that rubs off on his teammates."
Nowhere does Meppelink's effort and determination show better than on the defensive end of the court, where he's been one of the Lyncs' top stoppers the past two years.
De Boer said either he or Levi Vander Yacht draws the toughest defensive assignment most every night. And more times than not, they have come through - no matter the size of the player they're trying to stop.
Meppelink's athletic ability, length and physicality make him a good defender, De Boer said, but when it comes down to it, playing good defense comes down to one thing - determination.
"I think a lot of it is playing with the right mentality," Meppelink said. "You have to have the desire to do a good job and stop whoever you are guarding."
That same desire has driven Meppelink to improve other aspects of his game this year.
Meppelink said he has gotten up at 6:15 a.m. just to go and work on his shot, and often stays after practice and works out on weekends to continue perfecting it.
The extra work has shown. After averaging 6.6 points as a junior, the 6-foot-2 guard, who plays everywhere from point guard to small forward, is averaging 8.1 points this season.
"He spent a lot of time during the offseason working on his shot," De Boer said. "As a result, he's developed into a good 3-point shooter for us. He's so much better around the basket than he was even early this year. He's finishing his offensive rebounds. Those are things that were not second nature to him. He worked hard and developed them."
He's also worked to improve his rebounding, as De Boer said he's averaged more than five boards per game and grabbed an impressive nine in the Lyncs' 55-27 victory over Hoquiam on Saturday, Feb. 23, in the regional round.
"Rebounding is a lot like defense - it takes a lot of determination to be successful," De Boer said. "I think that's why you've seen his numbers increase."
Meppelink's determination doesn't only help him on the court, though.
He's also a near 4.0 student.
"I take school work pretty seriously," Meppelink said. "In fact, I take everything I do pretty seriously. It's kind of our mission statement at LC is to be excellent in academics, as well as athletics."
But because he is so driven to succeed, Meppelink said he's his own worst critic when it comes to motivating himself.
And that was something he and De Boer had to work through earlier this year.
De Boer, who admits he "sometimes can be hard on my players" to help motivate them, said he noticed that Meppelink didn't seem to be having fun playing earlier this year.
De Boer asked his senior to sit down with the coaching staff to talk about it, and they came to the conclusion that with Meppelink already being hard on himself, De Boer's motivation style might have been a little too much.
"For me, as a coach, I only want the best for him," De Boer said. "But he was already pushing himself plenty hard. Combining the two was almost too much. As a coaching staff, we realized we needed to coach him a little differently, and the results have been amazing. Nate knows how to motivate himself better than anyone else. ... I'm so proud of him. To have a kid step up and realize this about himself in a meeting with his coaches and find a way to make it more enjoyable for both of us, that's a mature individual."
Meppelink said De Boer's willingness to change reinforced his belief not only in himself, but in his coach.
"He's given me some freedom and shown he has confidence in my abilities," Meppelink said. "I know he's there for me, and he truly cares."
There's little doubt about that, as De Boer prepares for his final weekend coaching Meppelink and five other LC seniors at the state tournament.
"There's no doubt that it's been a blessing to coach this group of individuals," De Boer said. "This one was our first group. This is our fourth year here, so this is the first group we've had for all four years. You only have one first group, so this group would be special, no matter what, but these are six amazing individuals. Nate is definitely a special part of that group. He is so determined. That's just who he is."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.