MOUNT VERNON - Lynden girls' basketball coach Rob Adams had just orchestrated a monumental win for his team in the championship game of the Class 2A Bi-District Tournament on Friday, Feb. 21. But he was far from done coaching.
He had to teach his girls the proper way to cut down the net, making sure everybody got a chance to cut and keep a section of the nylon for their own and were climbing the ladder in the proper order.
Forgive the Lions if they don't know the proper etiquette in that post-game ceremony - they haven't had a whole lot of experience actually doing it before.
"We were talking about it on the way down, and I was told that we'd never won one (a district title)," Adams said. "I don't know if that's true, so I hate to say it's our first one. But it's our first one in a long, long time."
And this one was particularly special, as it came in a closely-contested game against a traditional power in Burlington-Edison. Freshman Jasmyne Neria hit a trio of free throws with 1 minute, 15 seconds to play to push Lynden ahead and then grabbed a key rebound to help secure a 49-44 victory.
The victory not only gives the Lions (17-6) the district title, it gives them a "true" No. 1 seed into the regional round of the Class 2A State Tournament, meaning they'll play the No. 5 seed out of District No. 3. The time and site for that game have not been decided, yet, under the WIAA's new regional allocation system, but Lynden is guaranteed to stay close to Whatcom County when the regional pairings are announced on Sunday, Feb. 23.
The closest approved regional site to Lynden is Mount Vernon High School - a court where Lynden now has some very fond memories after Friday's game - and it may end up there.
"I hope so," Adams said. "We love it. We love this court. We love this gym. It's a great environment. It's a great place to play, whether you're playing summer league, spring league, fall league, it doesn't matter. This is just an unbelievable tradition in this gym."
A tradition Lynden added to in a classic game Adams called "war for both halves."
The Lions trailed 44-40 midway through the fourth quarter, until Kira Nelson drove the lane and scored to cut the Tigers' advantage in half with 2:56 to play. Stephanie Somers, who scored a game-high 13 points, then trimmed it to one by making one of two free throws on Lynden's next possession.
After Burlington came up empty, Lynden set up in its half court offense. As the shot clock worked down, the Lions ran a called played that got the ball to Neria on the back side beyond the 3-point arc.
She caught the ball with about three seconds left on the shot clock, stepped to the side to avoid a defender and put up a shot just before the horn sounded. Though the shot was off, Neria was fouled in the process.
Unfortunately, the free-throw line is not a place the freshman has excelled this year, Adams said. In fact, she said she's been putting in one to two hours every other day to try to improve her foul shooting.
And in a dramatic situation like this in her first year playing varsity ball?
"It's a little overwhelming, but I take my time," Neria said. "I just release the ball, and I feel fine."
Her first touched nothing but net to tie the game at 44, and the next two were exact duplicates to give Lynden a 46-44 advantage.
"I felt confident when I got those first two in," Neria said.
She and her teammates began to feel really confident when Somers forced an errant shot on a drive by Olivia Capron, who led the Tigers with nine points, and Neria grabbed the rebound. Neria led the Lions with seven rebounds.
Burlington immediately began to foul and eventually put Elisa Kooiman on the line with 25.1 seconds remaining. Kooiman, another freshman, followed Neria's lead and sank both free throws to make it 48-44.
"Jas and Kooiman have been struggling from the free throw line this season," Adams said. "Then the last minute and a half of the game, they go (6 for 7). And they're freshmen in the biggest game of the season - of their lives. It was just really neat to see all their hard work. They have spent countless hours trying to become better free throw shooters, and it was nice to see them have that opportunity."
After another defensive stop, Kooiman was again fouled, and she hit one of two from the stripe for the final score, giving Lynden the district title.
"It's accomplishment," Adams said. "We always talk about legacies with the success we've had, this was the one thing we hadn't gotten. We just talked about your legacy tonight is you could possibly be the first ones to do it, and if not the first ones, it's been a really long time since. At halftime, they were really excited about that."
Lynden had to be excited just to be in the game at halftime, especially after shooting 1 for 17 from 2-point range in the first 16 minutes. Fortunately they were 7 for 11 from 3-point range in the half, including one from Holly McKinley before the half to give the Lions their first lead before Burlington snatched it back, 26-25 at the break.
"When we went into halftime, we were like, 'You know what? Our leading scorer sat down 48 seconds into the game, we shot 20 percent from the field from the half, and we're down one,'" Adams said. "So we're like, "Ladies, we don't need to change anything. We just need to play with some confidence, and we've got to figure out a way to get to the free throw line instead of settling for 3s.' And I thought our kids did a really good job of that."
And because they did, the Lions can now call themselves district champions.
"It means a lot helping this team out and coming out and having fun," Neria said.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
LYNDEN 49, BURLINGTON-EDISON 44
Burlington-Edison 17 9 13 5 - 44
Lynden 13 12 12 12 - 49
Burlington-Edison: Tyra Lopez 13, Edie Breckenridge 10, Ali Heyntsen 0, Katie Rodriguez 6, Olivia Capron 9, Rylee Gunderson 2, Emily Agen 4. Team totals: 15-44 8-11 44.
Lynden: Amanda Warner 3, Kira Nelson 8, Jasmyne Neria 6, Holly McKinley 3, Ashlyn Morgan 6, Elisa Kooiman 4, Kaitlyn Mark 6, Stephanie Somers 13. Team totals: 16-47 9-10 49.
3-ptg: Burlington-Edison 6 (Lopez 2, Breckenridge 2, Rodriguez 2), Lynden 8 (Mark 2, Somers 2). Rebounds: Burlington-Edison 26 (Capron 9), Lynden 33 (Neria 7). Assists: Burlington-Edison 3 (Lopez 2), Lynden 4 (Neria 2). Fouls: Burlington-Edison 11, Lynden 12. Turnovers: Burlington-Edison 7, Lynden 8.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.