When asked if her best game might be ahead as she heads for her fourth Class 2A State Tournament, Elisa Kooiman responded with the perfect answer.
“I think our whole team’s best game is ahead,” said the 6-foot senior leader, who has won three state trophies but is looking for her first championship hardware. “I feel everybody is a leader.”
One thing’s for sure: Kooiman’s best 10 minutes Friday were the last 10 minutes of Lynden’s 45-32 win over Anacortes under loser-out pressure for third place in the Northwest District. The Lions earned the only state spot available out of the consolation bracket.
Kooiman scored nine of her 11 points as she made four of her final six shots in that 10-minute span, helping the Lions (18-5) extend a 22-14 halftime lead at Mount Vernon High.
Mariah Gonzalez opened the fourth quarter with a muscle shot. The Lions limited the Seahawks (11-13) to two points in the first five minutes of the final period and Sierra Smith pretty much wrapped it up with a steal and layup for 42-27 with 3:22 to play.
Smith, Natalie Amos and freshman Ruby VanderHaak supported Kooiman with eight points apiece.
WHAT IT MEANS
In the new 16-team state class system, the Lions know they will play Burlington-Edison on either Feb. 24 or Feb. 25 in the state regionals at a site and time to be determined.
That game will be among four contests matching the top eight teams as determined by a Ratings Performance Index for the regular season (Lynden stands fourth in RPI and Burlington is fifth).
The four winners will advance directly to the eight-team, double-elimination round of the tournament beginning March 2 in Yakima.
The four losers will play March 1 in Yakima in the loser-out part of tournament against the four survivors of regional round loser-out games Feb. 24-25 matching the teams ranked 9 to 16 in RPI.
“We talked about what we call our ‘circle of control,’ ” said Lynden coach Rob Adams, who earned his ninth state tournament spot in 10 seasons. (The Lions are 10 for 11 including the season before Adams arrived.)
“A point of emphasis was to play defense with an enormous amount of energy,” said Adams, whose team responded with a loser-out 71-37 win two days earlier over Liberty following Monday’s 54-50 loss to Burlington in the semifinals. “Our focus was great. Our defense was outstanding.”
Jasmyne Neria (who had 16 points against Liberty), Lauren Zwiers and Faith Dut provided rebounding and defensive support as the Lions limited Anacortes to 11 for 37 shooting.
The only Anacortes player to score more than six points was impressive 5-10 sophomore Gabby Ronngren, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds, including six caroms in the fourth quarter.
Sally Vaux made a running half-court 3-pointer for Anacortes at the third-quarter buzzer, but that shot didn’t seem to faze the Lions.
HERSHEY EXPECTED BACK
Starting point guard Keylie Hershey, a freshman, is expected to return for the regionals after sitting out the three tournament games this week with a deep bone bruise.
Since Lynden opened with nine returnees from a state runner-up, Kooiman noted that there were “such high expectations” among the players and a basketball-loving community.
“We had to learn to just enjoy the game and not get caught up in the outside noise,” said Kooiman, who has signed with Northwest Nazarene for college basketball (she’s also an outstanding softball shortstop).
“I don’t typically feel pressure but I did feel it a little,” she said with a smile. “I’m a perfectionist. I still I can play better and we all can play better.”