Elisa Kooiman was the magic behind Lynden’s 12-1 run to end the season last year on the Lions’ way to a third-place state finish.
Coming into this season, Kooiman took that confidence and thought she needed to score on every possession, Lynden coach Rob Adams said, and she struggled because of it. She still averaged 12.6 points per game but there were no doubt some challenges.
“It takes awhile when you have a magical run and everyone tells you how good you are and you’re only 16 years old,” Adams said. “She had to take a step backward after struggling in the preseason and go ‘Hey this is hard.’”
Since the first five games, Kooiman has turned a corner, averaging 18.6 points per game over the past five games, including a 17-point effort in Lynden’s 44-35 win over Meridian on Friday, Jan. 9, at Meridian High School.
Despite facing several double teams throughout the night, Kooiman somehow managed to compile the double-digit effort, including a five-minute stretch in the third quarter when she scored six.
“We had to tell her to facilitate early and there will be parts of the game you can take over,” Adams said. “Tonight, she literally flexed her muscles and took over.”
It came against previously undefeated in conference Trojans, who fell to 3-1 in Northwest Conference play with the loss.
The Trojans, much like their season, started the game strong, finding cutters and open jump shooters in a 13-point first quarter. Point guard Ryley Zapien scored five in the first on her way to a 12-point effort.
“I saw a lot of gutsy play,” Meridian coach Mark Gilmore said. “We did a lot of things we set out to do. I thought our defense did a good job. We broke down a few times on Kooiman. She’s just hard to guard.”
The first quarter was the last lead Meridian saw, as the Trojans allowed the Lions, who held the Trojans to just two points in the second quarter, to go on an eight-point run in the second quarter and take a 19-15 lead into the locker room.
It was the Lynden defense that shifted the dynamics of the game, as the Lions’ man-to-man defense began the start of its turnaround.
“We knew that they were fast and really athletic and it’s hard to simulate that in practice,” Adams said. “I thought the first half, the Trojans did a really good job at getting us to play at their pace and we didn’t do very well at that.”
In the third quarter, the Lions’ shutdown defense continued, as they forced five 30-second shot clock violations, which accounted for nearly one-third of the 17 turnovers the Lions forced on the night.
Meridian, unable to hit the outside shot nor find the cutter inside, fell behind 32-22 and there was no coming back despite a late push that saw the Trojans pull to within six.
“I think we were really focusing on rebounding, running and just playing better,” Kooiman said. “The first half wasn’t very good but I think we really improved in the second half and just getting more rebounds and just working harder and not having sloppy plays.”
The Lions ended up losing the rebounding battle 35-23 on the night but the majority of the difference came in the first half, as Zapien, Janesssa Murphy and Mackenzie Cox got offensive board after offensive board.
Cox finished the night with a game-high eight rebounds, while Murphy and Zapien each had seven.
“It’s a confidence builder,” Gilmore said of Friday night’s game. “I talked to the girls about that. I don’t think we’re going to run the table in the second half, but we need to be in every game and we need to learn from it. Tonight, I think they built confidence and they did stuff we set out to do. I hope that they learn from it and it pays off down the road.
Lynden knew going in the game would be close, as every NWC game is, Adams said.
“This is one of those bookmark games,” Adams said. “They’re undefeated in Northwest Conference play, which is hard to do. We’re playing at their venue with a nice big crowd. The boys game behind you. If there was ever going to be a hiccup or an oops on your schedule, this was the perfect environment for that.”
The Lions refused to suffer that hiccup, though, and move to 3-0 in NWC play. Lynden will face Blaine on Monday, Jan. 12, at home, while Meridian plays Squalicum Tuesday, Jan. 13, also at home.
Lynden 44, Meridian 35
Lynden: Mandy Warner 6, Lauren Zwiers 0, Jasmyne Neria 5, Mariah Gonzalez 9, Olivia Bonsen 0, Elisa Kooiman 17, Kaitlyn Mark 7, Emily Holt 0. Totals: 15-38 12-21 44.
Meridian: Ryley Zapien 12, Kyrin Baklund 7, Sydney Swanson 0, Ellese FitzGerald 8, Janessa Murphy 1, Natalie Swanson 2, Emily Stuth 0, Bryn Magnusson 2, Mackenzie Cox 3. Totals: 13-53 6-13 35.
3-point field goals — Lynden: 2 (Kooiman, Mark 1); Meridian: 2 (FitzGerald 2). Rebounds — Lynden: 23 (Kooiman 6); Meridian: 35 (Cox 8). Assists — Lynden: 5 (Neria 2); Meridian: 5 (Natalie Swanson 2). Fouls — Lynden: 14; Meridian: 18. Turnovers — Lynden: 14; Meridian: 17.