BELLINGHAM - Western Washington University's women's basketball team was staring up at a 58-50 deficit in the final five minutes of play against the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
The Seawolves had seen their two-point deficit at the start of the second half swell to as many as nine, but no panic came from the Vikings' huddle. And just before it broke, the final words didn't come from their coach, Carmen Dolfo, but their junior post, Sydney Donaldson.
"We're not going to lose this game," said Donaldson, looking at every single one of her teammates.
And they didn't, staging a late rally that led to a 76-70 win on Thursday, Jan. 23.
By all accounts, Donaldson didn't have a big game - she finished with seven points on 2-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds - but there are other ways to impact the outcome of a game, and Dolfo believed Donaldson taking command of a team on the ropes sent quite a message.
"I heard Sydney on the bench say, 'We're not losing tonight,' and I think that was their mindset," Dolfo said after the game.
Donaldson's 7.6 points per game and six rebounds only tells half the story. Averages have a way of being deceiving in that regard. Since WWU's 71-64 win over Central Washington University on Jan. 9, where Donaldson went for 21 points and nine rebounds, she's averaged 13.4 points per game and 9.4 boards.
WWU looks to gain sole possession of first place in the GNAC when it takes on the University of Alaska-Fairbanks at 7 p.m., on Saturday, Jan. 25, at Sam Carver Gymnasium.
It's not a coincidence that the Vikings have won their past five games, either, which included playing three of the top teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
That same stretch has seen Donaldson overcome a demon that has plagued her since her high school career at Edmonds-Woodway: consistency.
"It's that same thing - that aggression part," Donaldson said. "I need to make sure I remain aggressive the entire time. ... When I play uptight and nervous and over think everything, that's when I play bad."
After Donaldson's 21-point, nine-rebound performance against Central Washington University on Jan. 9, Dolfo said afterward that she hoped that game would lead to more like it - that her potential would finally meet reality on a night-in, night-out basis.
Her next performance? A 15-point, 15-rebound game against Northwest Nazarene University, which included six boards on the offensive end.
"We've always known she has it in her," WWU senior post Sarah Hill said.
NNU entered its contest with the Vikings the No. 18-ranked team in Division II, and a big reason the Crusaders had found early-season success was because they were outrebounding teams by an average of 8.5 boards per game.
Donaldson's 15 rebounds contributed to WWU's dominant performance on the glass, outrebounding NNU 42-33 in the 81-68 win.
"We just proved ourselves," said Donaldson of the Vikings' performance against the Crusaders. "It's a controllable thing. It's just effort and desire to go get it and fighting for those boards. It is a mental hurdle that we got over."
IT'S GAME DAY!!
Admittedly, Donaldson knows her superstitious ways are a tad outlandish.
It all started her sophomore year in high school when before every game day, she would post on Facebook or Twitter, "It's Game Day Eve," plus or minus numerous exclamation points. She would trot around practice, too, reminding those who weren't entirely aware that it was a holiday of sorts, being the day before game day - the greatest day of all.
"I had to post it every time," Donaldson said. "It was really annoying, but my team, they all knew about it, and all the school knew about it."
And once you start to believe in a ritual, you never break from it.
"If I don't post 'Game Day Eve,' it's a bad time," she said. "It's stupid. Has nothing to do with basketball. But yup, I got to make sure I post it."
Among the many things she brought with her to WWU, like her ability to play all three post positions and hit the perimeter shot, she also brought Game Day Eve. Hill and the other Vikings have bought in.
"It's something that helps us get going," Hill said. "Me and her are probably the craziest. The team responds to that. ... When you hear that, that brings you back and remember we're (all in)."
Donaldson added: "When we're in the gym before practice begins, we're all yelling and talking, and everyone will be like, 'What day is it?' and we all scream, 'It's Game Day Eve.'"
She subscribes to the it's-only-weird-if-it-doesn't-work mindset, and with the Vikings riding a five-game winning streak, her superstitions aren't in jeopardy of being abandoned, she said.
HARD NOSED AND VERSATILE
The 6-foot tall Donaldson has played the small forward, power forward and center so far this season, bringing a mismatch to nearly every position.
At the small forward, she said she feels larger and more powerful than most, and when she shifts to the power forward or center, she feels quicker and more agile than lumbering posts.
"I am considered an undersized post," Donaldson said. "For me, it's kind of fun to try to be finesse and slither in and out and try to get boards. I'm not a big brute."
Playing against bigger, stronger opponents is nothing knew for the junior, who grew up playing basketball against her older brothers, Andrew and Connor.
One of her brothers, Connor, is a 6-foot-7 forward for Montana State University-Billings averaging 9.8 points per game this season.
"I think that's where I learned to be a post," said Sydney of growing up playing against Connor. "I like being aggressive and playing against the guys."
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
WESTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY VS. UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA-FAIRBANKS
When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25
Where: Sam Carver Gymnasium