When Rob Adams arrived as Lynden's girls' basketball coach in 2007, he sought to change the program's culture.
Before having ever met his players - before having ever stepped foot on the basketball court with his team - he made his way into the locker room where his girls were waiting and turned on a nearby faucet, watching the water fall into a five-gallon bucket he was suspending from his pinkie.
As the water continued to fall, he needed another finger, then another and another until the bucket was full, his fist wrapped around the handle.
"In essence, our team - our culture - is the fist because it represents collective responsibility, and then we talked about enthusiasm and ... pride and standards and next-play mentality, and all of them together make the fist," Adams said.
He wanted to bring his girls together, illustrating their dependence on one another like the hand wrapped around the handle. One finger could not take the weight just as one player can't carry the team.
Adams' abstract methods of coaching, supported by the surging play of the Lions this season, has Lynden within one game of a 2014 Hardwood Classic state basketball tournament berth. The Lions, after defeating Burlington-Edison in the Class 2A Bi-District championship game Friday, Feb. 21, earned a No. 1 seed in the state regional round and will play Olympic at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at Mount Vernon High School.
It's customary for teams to run shorter lineups in the postseason given the win-or-go-home aspect of play. Lynden didn't subscribe to that school of thought when it won the state championship in 07-08 under Adams, and it doesn't now.
"We never have. When we played 10 people in the state championship game, we played 10 people in the first quarter," said Adams, adding that it doesn't work for everybody.
Sometimes the inexperienced players logging significant minutes early in the season makes for interesting times. Losses happen that shouldn't, and games that wouldn't necessarily be close are, Adams said. But it's a decision he's willing to live with because when he needs his players most in the postseason, the important minutes they played in the regular season translate to a more hardened, tested team.
Senior captain Stephanie Somers has seen the logic of that philosophy first hand.
"When you put them out in the beginning, it's just like, 'Oh, hey, they are just freshmen and sophomores,'" Somers said. "They definitely look more comfortable as the games have gone on. In the beginning, they were a little hesitant. In the postseason, coach always says, 'You're not a sophomore. You've played 20 games.' That experience just makes it so much easier for them."
Nine girls played double-digit games this season, with key reserves Kira Nelson, Holly McKinley and Jasmyne Neria being thrust into significant minutes in the Lions' 49-44 win over Burlington-Edison in the bi-district championship game.
During that game, Adams' belief in running a deep bench in the regular season was tested.
Lynden's leading scorer, freshman guard Elisa Kooiman (14.1 points per game), recorded two fouls in the first 28 seconds of the game and was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the first half. Most teams, Adams said, would tremble at the thought of being without its leading scorer for such an extended period of time.
"Every girl out there just kept grinding with that next-play mentality," Adams said. "It was like, 'We just got to survive. We just have to keep playing. Elisa will be back at halftime.' And now, when we get in big games and we have to take our leading scorer out for over half the game, we don't even get fazed. We just play."
If you haven't played in big moments, Adams asked, then how will his players be able to deal with those situations when they arise?
"When we get to that game and it's go time, or what we call crunch time, you look at the kids and 'Yeah, you're ready. You're battle tested,'" Adams said. "You hear about it all the time in all sports, 'How are they going to react in the big game?' If you've never been there, you don't know."
That doesn't necessarily make those stinging early-season losses any better, he added.
For Somers, who's committed to play at Division I Idaho State next year, she's come to understand the method to Adams' madness, even if it means playing less minutes than usual for someone with her numbers. She's scoring 13 points per game but is playing in and around 22 minutes per game.
She's about winning more so than anything else, and distributing minutes to other players is what she believes will best ensure her career ends with Class 2A state championship.
"My biggest goal this season (is) to end my season in Yakima," Somers said. "No matter if you're a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, you're still a key part of the team. ... For me, I've always been a team person, and whatever it takes to win."
Adams added: "Once you get that culture going and you cultivate that culture and you kind of keep going with it, now you get to where (we) are now, and (we) are one 32-minute game from Yakima."
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
LYNDEN VS. OLYMPIC
When: 6 p.m., Saturday, March 1
Where: Mount Vernon High School
Player G Pts. Avg.
Amanda Warner 23 110 4.8
Kira Nelson 21 55 2.6
Maddie Kramme 4 0 0.0
Jasmyne Neria 23 67 2.9
Holly McKinley 22 46 2.1
Ashlyn Morgan 22 130 5.9
Elisa Kooiman 22 311 14.1
Kaitlyn Mark 23 167 7.3
Emily Holt 11 13 1.2
Stephanie Somers 23 300 13.0
Senaida Veliz 1 0 0.0
Olivia Bonsen 3 0 0.0
Lauren Zwiers 2 0 0.0
LYNDEN (17-6), (9-3)
Dec. 9 Anacortes W, 65-41
Dec. 13 at Sehome W, 61-37
Dec. 14 at Lake Stevens L, 55-45
Dec. 17 Mount Baker W, 73-59
Dec. 19 Bellingham* W, 56-39
Dec. 27 at Sonoma, Calif W, 56-21
Dec. 28 Cookeville, Tenn L, 66-57
Dec. 30 Kings L, 47-42
Jan. 3 at Squalicum* W, 56-29
Jan. 6 Burlington-Edison* L, 54-45
Jan. 10 at Anacortes* W, 43-29
Jan. 11 at White River W, 49-32
Jan. 13 Nooksack Valley* W, 55-43
Jan. 17 at Lynden Christian* L, 38-32
Jan. 23 at Mount Baker* L, 48-44
Jan. 28 Sehome* W, 47-13
Jan. 31 Blaine* W, 52-45
Feb. 3 at Ferndale* W, 45-44
Feb. 6 Meridian* W, 49-35
Feb. 11 Sedro-Woolley* W, 64-27
CLASS 2A BI-DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Feb. 14 Lakewood W, 63-29
Feb. 17 Archbishop Murphy W, 57-40
Feb. 21 Burlington-Edison W, 49-44