Lynden Christian knows better than to overlook its next two Hardwood Classic opponents and begin thinking about playing for a Class 1A state title.
Coach Curt De Haan engrains a strict focus on the next opponent into the Lyncs' minds.
Furthermore, it was only a year ago when LC's attempt to capture a state championship was quashed during the first day of the Hardwood Classic thanks to a loss to Brewster. The Bears went on to win a state championship.
Still, this year's senior group of Lyncs has been so tantalizingly close to becoming state champions, they can't help but believe this could finally be the season the stars align.
"The whole season we've been talking about how we have all the pieces," senior forward Courtney Hollander said. "We just needed to put them together, and I think now they are finally all coming together."
LC will test Hollander's belief when the Lyncs face the Granger Spartans (17-7) during the quarterfinals of the Hardwood Classic at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6, at Yakima's SunDome. LC earned the trip after scoring a 56-42 redemption win against Freeman during the regional round of state last weekend.
There's no doubt Lynden Christian (22-2) is rolling. It's won 17 straight and hasn't lost since 2014 began - that defeat being a 51-39 loss to Cashmere on Dec. 28 during the Lynden Christmas Classic.
The Lyncs won a Northwest Conference title, a District 1 title and a tri-district title.
But while any trip to the Hardwood Classic must be considered a success, all this year's triumphs can't satisfy the desire Hollander, Karley De Jager and Sally Vlas have to win a title after being so close the past three seasons.
LC settled for second place after losing to Freeman in 2011's state title game. Two years ago, the Lyncs again fell to Freeman, this time a 37-36 semifinal loss before Lynden Christian bounced back to claim a third-place trophy. Last year Lynden Christian was the recipient of a nightmare draw, suffering a first-round loss to Brewster before battling back to place fourth in state.
"We have a great record here at LC," senior post Karley De Jager said. "Just to make it to state is awesome, but when we leave after not making it as far as we want, it gives us a motivator for next year, so I really really want to reach that goal."
It would an achievement LC's three seniors have been striving for since they first joined the same AAU team eight years ago.
"Since fifth grade we have been talking about winning a state championship," Hollander said. "That's what all the AAU years were for and all the practices, so, I mean, that's always been our goal, and if we can do that, that'd be awesome."
There's several reason's why this could be Lynden Christian's year.
First of all, they are tested. Every trip to the Hardwood Classic has applied an edge to the club. Lynden Christian graduated only one senior last year. De Haan's group is a deep, veteran bunch.
Speaking of depth, the Lyncs have a lot of it. They're versatile, too.
LC utilizes a nine-player rotation, which features strong defensive, veteran guards Vlas and Makayla Lancaster as well as Kassady Aldrich and Haley Hollander. Forwards Courtney Hollander and Kara Bajema are ultra-athletic and the Lyncs' top scoring threats, and De Jager, Sara Dougan and Morgan Van Kooten give LC a tall, physical inside presence.
Mostly, though, Lynden Christian's togetherness and all-for-one attitude is this year's signature characteristic.
"Team is greater than I, and I think they are really buying into the team concept," De Haan said.
Courtney and De Jager said the group's fostered family atmosphere has been prevalent since the season began.
It draws parallels with a certain team Courtney and De Jager remember watching as kids: the 2007-08 Lyncs, who won the most recent of Lynden Christian's nine state titles.
"I followed that team when I was however old that entire season," Courtney said. "I remember going to state, and you sit up in the crowd watching them, hoping one day it will be you. ... They really had the family concept down, willing to give it up for each other, and I just remember thinking I wanted to be a part of something like that when I was older."
De Jager compared the 2008 group to a "machine," saying "you could tell they were very close."
Now six years later, Hollander and De Jager get the chance to help their team resemble the group they once dreamed of emulating.
Lynden Christian has been playing its strong trademark defense, especially of late, but De Haan said a lot has to go right to win three games in as many days at the SunDome.
"You have to have a good team, you have to get some breaks and you have to capitalize when you do," said the LC coach. "We just focus on trying to get a win on Thursday. Last year we didn't win on Thursday. You can't look at it in that perspective (of winning a state title), because if you don't win on Thursday, you get to talk about other things."
De Haan did admit, though, his team set its goals high at the beginning of the year.
Even with the team's pervasive next-game mentality, the opportunity to win a state title hasn't slipped De Jager's mind.
"When we're together, we're like, 'Oh my gosh, winning state would be such a blessing.' It would be so good, that feeling of working so hard would be amazing. Even the state championship game would be such a goal reached."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN vs. GRANGER
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6
Where: Yakima SunDome
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN (22-2, 12-0 NWC)
Dec. 5 Sehome W, 72-7
Dec. 6 at Kings W, 46-44
Dec. 9 Ferndale W, 55-37
Dec. 16 Burlington-Edison W, 57-37
Dec. 19 Blaine* W, 44-42
Dec. 27 Brewster L, 68-39
Dec. 28 Cashmere L, 51-39
Jan. 2 at Bellingham* W, 59-38
Jan. 6 Mount Baker* W, 62-44
Jan. 9 at Burlington-Edison* W, 45-31
Jan. 14 Anacortes* W, 42-29
Jan. 17 Lynden* W, 38-32
Jan. 21 at Ferndale* W, 48-43
Jan. 25 Friday Harbor* W, 65-24
Jan. 27 at Sedro-Woolley* W, 73-38
Jan. 30 Meridian* W, 71-17
Feb. 1 at Nooksack Valley* W, 52-24
Feb. 3 Squalicum* W, 58-31
Feb. 7 at Sehome* W, 75-31
CLASS 1A NORTHWEST DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Feb. 11 Meridian W, 59-7
Feb. 13 Mount Baker W, 67-41
Feb. 15 King's W, 46-36
CLASS 1A TRI-DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Feb. 22 Cascade Christian W, 67-30
CLASS 1A STATE REGIONALS
March 1 Freeman W, 56-42
CLASS 1A STATE TOURNAMENT
March 6 Granger 5:30 p.m.
2013-14 LYNDEN CHRISTIAN GIRLS' BASKETBALL STATS
Player G Pts. Avg.
Makayla Lancaster 20 61 3.1
Haley Hollander 24 58 2.4
Kara Bajema 24 314 13.1
Courtney Hollander 21 187 8.9
Sally Vlas 24 171 7.1
Kassady Aldrich 21 78 3.7
Karley de Jager 24 209 8.7
Sara Dougan 23 144 6.3
Morgan Van Kooten 22 121 5.5
E. Bailey 4 4 1.0
S. Brandsma 3 4 1.3
Shaye Brandsma 1 0 0.0
Brittney Te Velde 3 0 0.0
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.