It was during the Class 2A State Tournament last year that Elisa Kooiman, just a freshman at the time, really began establishing herself as the heir apparent for the Lynden girls’ basketball team.
But on Saturday, Feb. 28, with a return trip to Yakima for the Lions hanging in the balance, coach Rob Adams challenged her to step up and start being the player.
“He just said, ‘If you want to be the player, then be the player. Step up. You can do it, and I have confidence in you,’” Kooiman said smiling through her Lynden green braces.
The sophomore did exactly that, scoring 12 of her game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter to spur the Lions to a 53-43 victory over Black Hills in the regional round of the state tournament.
The Lions (17-7) move on to the 2A state quarterfinals, which will be played Thursday, March 5, at the Yakima Valley SunDome. Lynden will learn its opponent on Sunday, March 1, when the WIAA releases the full brackets.
For most of the second and third quarters, it looked like those brackets wouldn’t include Lynden.
After hitting 8 of 12 shots in the first quarter to open a 15-9 lead, the Lions suddenly went stagnant, as Black Hills turned up its full-court press.
“Believe it or not we practiced for it,” Adams said. “We were ready for it. It just didn’t show up. It caught us off guard. We had a great flow going, and they did a great job calling a timeout and putting and end to that. It caught us off track a little bit. We started rushing and literally kicking the ball all around the court.”
The Lions turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, allowing the Wolves to come back and take a 25-22 lead into the break.
Despite his team’s difficulties, Adams and his coaching staff were optimistic.
“The nice thing was they showed it (the press) to us before halftime, so we were able to come in at halftime and explain to them in basketball you can either play man-to-man, you can play zone or you can press,” Adams said. “I was like, ‘Ladies I’m here to tell you they had to show us all three things. And now we get a chance to collect ourselves and realize we’re only down three.’”
That margin quickly grew to six, when Lindsey Nurmi converted a 3-point play on the first possession of the second half, but the Lions slowly battled back and cut the lead to 33-32 at the end of the third when Kaitlyn Mark drained a 3.
And that’s when Adams decided to challenge his sophomore standout.
It wasn’t that Kooiman had played all that poorly through the first three quarters.
“I knew the entire game I could do it,” Kooiman said. “I guess in the beginning I wasn’t putting myself in position to score. I was just going along with the flow of the game. I wasn’t playing bad and missing shots, but I wasn’t attacking the way I should.”
She also drew a tough defensive assignment early, Adams said, as she had to battle Black Hills’ Meeri Gummerus, which “gassed her a little,” but Adams used the break between the third and the fourth to spur Kooiman on.
“I really challenged Elisa at the end of the third quarter, about, “Hey we’ve been preaching that if you want to be the player, you have to play a certain way all the time,’” Adams said. “You could see coming out of the third quarter intermission, after I challenged her, her shoulders kind of peeked up and her chin went up, and you could tell she was, ‘Hey, I’m going to get this done.’”
And she did.
Just over a minute into the fourth quarter, Kooiman converted a crucial 3-point play to tie the game at 35.
“I just thought to myself, ‘This can’t be the end of my season. I don’t want to get ready for fastpitch season quite yet. I want to go on to state,’” Kooiman said. “I got that one pump fake and one, and that was such a relief.”
Three possessions later, she hit another bucket from in the paint to give Lynden it’s first lead since the second quarter.
Mark, who scored seven of her 12 points in the game’s final nine minutes, stretched the lead with a 3, before Kooiman converted a second and-one opportunity to stretch the lead to 10 points with 1:16 to play.
“It was more frustrating more than anything else early on,” Adams said. “Even in the third quarter, we were hurting ourselves. They weren’t hurting us. We just weren’t making game-winning plays. We just kept telling the girls ride out the storm, and we’ll have a chance to make it back. And credit to them, they kept it close enough, and when we made a run, they didn’t have an answer.”
Besides the run, Lynden can also credit the defense it got from sophomore Mariah Gonzalez from off the bench, as she helped limit Shayla Smothers to 12 points inside.
“As a sophomore — we’re so young — she’s been a project,” Adams said of Gonzalez. “She’s slowly buying in to, ‘Hey, I’m seeing my value.’ Everybody has to see their value. She’s truly understanding, ‘My role is to play defense.’ She’s settling herself down and stopped worrying about the offense. She was just amazing defensively. Just amazing.”
So was the fact that Lynden out-rebounded the much bigger Wolves 38-32. Gonzalez and Mark each had eight boards.
“Anytime you out-rebound a team with that much size, you can predetermine things,” Adams said. “We were like the little engine that could.”
Lynden 53, Black Hills 43
Black Hills: Caitlin Grimm 0, Shayla Smothers 12, Lauren Furu 3, Bailey Rollman 2, Sammi Payne 3, Emma Duff 5, Lexi Tarrow 2, Kassi Ward 0, Lindsey Nurmi 12, Rachel LaBelle 0, Meeri Gummerus 4, Kayle Moloney 0. Totals: 14-50 11-17 43.
Lynden: Mandy Warner 6, Lauren Zweirs 0, Morgan Black 0, Jasmyne Neria 10, Mariah Gonzalez 6, Anna Wielenga 0, Sierra 1, Olivia Bonsen 0, Heidi Lankhaar 0, Elisa Kooiman 18, Kaitlyn Mark 12, Emily Holt 0. Totals: 17-44 12-19 53.
3-point field goals — Black Hills: 4-20 (Payne, Duff, Nurmi, Gummerus); Lynden: 7-19 (Neria 3). Rebounds — Black Hills: 32(Smothers 8); Lynden: 38 (Gonzalez 8). Assists — Black Hills: 3 (Nurmi 3); Lynden: 11 (Kooiman 4). Fouls — Black Hills: 15 (Smothers fouled out); Lynden: 12. Turnovers — Black Hills: 14; Lynden: 19.