Lynden’s Mariah Gonzalez possesses tremendous athleticism, a noticeable physicality, scoring ability, lock-down defense and an extremely high motor — attributes that force opponents to take notice.
The 5-foot-9 junior forward has been an integral piece to the Lions’ success, averaging 29 minutes and five points per game while usually guarding an opposing team’s featured offensive threat.
Gonzalez’s skill has never been questioned.
Interestingly, perhaps the junior’s biggest opponent heading into this season has been herself.
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“Last year when things weren’t going my way I would totally give up, and I got into my head so much,” Gonzalez admitted.
A questionable call? Gonzalez might argue.
A missed makeable shot? It would affect Gonzalez’s defense.
Honest constructive criticism from coach Rob Adams? She wouldn’t want to hear the truth.
But Adams began seeing change in his up-and-coming player during summer ball last year. Gonzalez started making less mistakes and more positive plays. She started embracing Adams’ criticism.
A new, more mature Gonzalez had developed. And it’s made a world of difference, allowing the forward to flourish with her teammates.
Its a life-altering thing when a member of your family has cancer, and she has matured quite a bit. It’s had a signifcant impact on her life. She has become a better student, a better teammate and a better friend, and again, that is a huge credit to her as a young lady to do all that, which is such a big deal.
Lynden coach Rob Adams on Mariah Gonzalez
She’ll be showcased with the Lions (21-3) when they face Black Hills during the Class 2A State Tournament quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 3, at the Yakima SunDome.
“Mariah wants to hear the truth now,” Adams said. “She looks you in the eyes and wants to hear the truth because she wants to be a good basketball player.”
A big part of Gonzalez’s success, along with her maturation, has been her ability to embrace her role, which for the Lions is a defensive stopper athletic enough to matchup with a guard or forward. Also, although Gonzalez is undersized, she gives Lynden a strong frontcourt offensive presence thanks to her strength.
Some of Gonzalez’s best defensive moments came during the Lions’ 55-45 win over Lynden Christian on Jan. 22, a 52-45 district semifinal victory over Shorecrest and Lynden’s state regional win over Liberty last weekend.
Gonzalez helped limit standout Kara Bajema against the Lyncs. She played tremendous defensive versus Shorecrest’s Julia Stand and was pivotal against Liberty top scorer Samantha Kelderman.
For a player who used to be more enamored with scoring points and less interested in doing some of the dirty work, here’s a tell-tale sign of Gonzalez’s growth: “You don’t have to be the leading scorer to be a great basketball player,” she said. “That doesn’t take away your value as a basketball player.
“One of my teammates, Emily Holt, she doesn’t get a lot of points, but her defense is unbelievable. It’s amazing, and she helps with dribbling and gets others opportunites. People don’t recognize that because most people focus on points.”
Gonzalez has found inspiration off the court, too.
She’s matured because she wants to be a better basketball player, but a large part of her growth has been a result of her mom, Tami Gonzalez, who has been battling cancer after being diagnosed with lymphoma.
Mariah called Tami her “rock,” saying her mom was the one who got her into basketball years ago.
Tami hasn’t been able to attend all Mariah’s games this season, due to chemotherapy treatments, but her presence always gives Mariah a reminder of the player she wants to be.
“My mom and dad have always told me I can’t get down on myself when things aren’t going my way,” Gonzalez said, “and I’ve wanted to prove to my mom that I have grown up and I’m not the same player as I was last year.”
Mariah got some great news before she traveled to Yakima with her team Wednesday, learning her mom’s cancer has been significantly reduced, and Tami will be in attendance as the Lions attempt their state-title run.
“When I’m happy and having fun, that is when I’m playing my best,” Gonzalez said, “and that’s when I can help my team the best.”
Gonzalez’s understanding of that has been all the difference.