The holiday tournament season is always fun to watch. Teams that don’t know one another very well facing off as coaches find weaknesses and strengths of their team. It’s often you’ll see early afternoon games with no student section, much different than your typical 7:15 p.m. start, making the atmosphere a bit unusual, as Sehome boys’ coach AJ LaBree said after his Cloud 9 Christmas Classic game. But as players try to stay sharp and motivated through the tournament games that mean little in the grand scope of the season, we find out a lot about what each team is made of. Here are five takeaways from the past couple weeks of the girls’ basketball season.
The Northwest Conference is good. The NWC went 22-15 collectively over winter break with a Lynden Christian-Snohomish game left to play. That’ll likely be 23-15 in out-of-conference games for the NWC. From LC to Meridian, this conference has some real contenders.
Lynden Christian is still a work in progress. This is the scary part about the NWC too. Arguably the best team in the conference (Burlington-Edison and Ferndale certainly have cases to be made also) is still not in full stride. The Lyncs got three tough tests against ranked opponents and came out 1-2. The Lyncs offense looks stagnant at times and Kara Bajema admitted the Lyncs struggle with pressure on the ball. Makayla Lancaster coming back will certainly help the Lyncs in regards to beating that ball pressure but there needs to be more movement and attacking the basket from the Lyncs, who were held to an 0 for 11 shooting quarter in a loss against White River. Brady Bomber still sounds confident in his squad and he has every right to believe in the defending state champs. Bajema also sounded confident following the loss to White River. “We’re definitely younger but I see lots of room for potential. I think that’s a good thing. There’s always room to improve. I think this team will do good.” The Lyncs will soon get the chance to prove it.
Mount Baker will struggle with size. Emily Yost and Emily Brandland are both fantastic players. Yost is averaging 23.9 points per game and Brandland is averaging 17.2. Against a much bigger team than they’re used to in Cascade Christian, the Mountaineers scoring totals dropped, as did the two post players and Baker suffered a loss because of it. Yost and Brandland can probably carry this team past the other 1A teams in the NWC, but the postseason may yield much tougher for the Mountaineers. Speaking of 1As...
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The 1A race this year will be exciting. LC, Mount Baker, Meridian and Nooksack Valley all have loads of talent. Just look at the following names leading those teams: Yost, Brandland, Bajema, Lancaster, Ryley Zapien, Mariah Perry. There’s so many great players here and four good teams that should keep this interesting to the end. LC probably has the edge to win the 1As, but Baker, Meridian and Nooksack aren’t going to make it easy.
Teams need more than one go-to scorer. Every team has it’s star, but the key to victory as shown against higher-level competition over the past few weeks is having that second or third option. And there are plenty of teams finding that player right now. For Bellingham, who’s looked better the past couple games, Emily Benson is starting to emerge. For Ferndale, Abby Reid has aided Linsey Honeycutt extremely well. Lynden has a power duo in Elisa Kooiman and Kaitlyn Mark. Kyrin Baklund is averaging 14 points over her last three games to complement Zapien. Baker has its post duo. For Nooksack, Brianna Turner scored 20 the other night while the Pioneers’ leading scorer Mariah Perry had an off night. Sehome has Madison MacPhee coming to life to help Maddy Bryan. Sydney Arndorfer’s 16 points might be what the Storm need to help freshman Chalae Wolters. The holiday tournament season is a time to find those second and third stars as well as figure out who’s cracking the top five and who’s riding the bench before NWC play gets in full swing next week. As Bajema said after the Lyncs’ loss, “We knew scheduling these games that we wanted hard matches so we could see our weaknesses and improve on them. We don’t want to go into games in postseason and just then pointing out our weaknesses.”