The start of Mount Baker girls’ basketball player Emily Yost’s final high school season was the perfect setup to a fairytale ending.
The Mountaineers were 6-1, and Yost was averaging 27.4 points per game, including a school-record 46 points Dec. 12 against Oak Harbor. It appeared Yost was well on her way to a phenomenal season with the possibility of leading Baker to its first state tournament appearance since 2005.
Then everything took a turn for the worse.
Yost scored eight points in a Cloud 9 Christmas Classic loss to Cascade Christian and only averaged 11.8 points per game over the next six games. Baker struggled along with Yost — the Mountaineers went 1-5 during that stretch.
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“I think it’s tough for anybody,” Baker coach Brenda Ellis said in a phone interview. “The one thing about her is she feels like there’s a burden of success on her. As she goes, the team goes, so to speak.”
For a player that was asked to do a little of everything — scoring, rebounding, distributing — that burden is likely to rear its head a few times throughout a long season. It just happened to all come at once for Yost.
But she’s also not the type of person to talk about those frustrations or feelings she’s having.
She battled through, and because of that, along with her ability to lead and distribute, Yost has been selected The Bellingham Herald’s 2014-15 All-Whatcom County Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.
“I do hear from her sister. She’ll say, ‘Em is feeling a lot of pressure,’” Ellis said. “It is tough on her. No matter how great she is, she’s still a kid.”
Instead of getting down on herself, though, Yost continued to turn to something she picked up after struggling on the court early last season.
Since the first weeks of last year, Yost would spend an hour after every practice putting in extra work.
She would ask the coach and janitors to leave the gym open and her sister would rebound for her while Yost continued to put time into her game. This led to some odd arrangements with the janitors.
“I definitely had to vacuum some floors and sweep the gym a few times,” Yost said in a phone interview. “But it was worth it.”
All of that extra effort came to fruition when Yost and the team were struggling. The team changed the offense slightly and asked Yost to step away from her traditional post role, where she could easily be double or triple-teamed.
Instead, the goal was to get Yost the ball on the perimeter and in places where she could create.
The transition came easy to Yost. While she primarily worked on the blocks in games, in that hour after practice, Yost developed a great outside shot and the ability to drive.
The offensive change led to a .500 record the rest of the way for the Mountaineers and a 1A Northwest District playoff berth.
Yost finished with a 20.4 points-per-game average — tops in the Northwest Conference.
“The great thing about Emily is she always worked on every part of her game,” Ellis said. “That’s why when people started double teaming her, she had somewhere to go. It wasn’t ‘Oh, now I have to do this.’ It was already developed.”
Behind the scenes things weren’t easy for Yost. She was battling an ankle injury, although the extent of that pain is somewhat unknown, because Yost didn’t always disclose how severe the injury was to coach Ellis.
No injury was going to sideline Yost for another postseason. After breaking her wrist late last season, Yost had to sit out the final games of her junior year.
Her senior year would not be the same story.
She wanted to make the state playoffs for the first time in her career. The Mountaineers fell short of qualifying for state by one game, but the season will go down as a success for Yost, she said.
“It was definitely a little heartbreaking to not make it to state,” Yost said. “At the same time it was a huge accomplishment for the seniors to make it that far.”
Yost is undecided on what lies in front of her, but she is considering a few colleges where she could continue to play basketball.
Whether Yost continues or not, she’ll go down as one of the hardest workers in Baker girls’ basketball history, Ellis said.
Plus, she’s not totally gone from the Deming Dome. She still holds the school record for most points in a single game, and a 46-point night is not easily forgotten.
“It was exciting to be around that, but the neater thing for me was I was the one to see all the work nobody else saw,” Ellis said. “Everyone can see this kid scored this many points, but nobody’s there when she’s working hard after practice. ... She’s naturally gifted in basketball, but I honestly believe she will do well in whatever she chooses.”