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Lynden volleyball’s senior quartet has unfinished business in final season

4-year starters are leading Lions to best season in 15 years

Lynden volleyball's four seniors
Lynden volleyball's four seniors (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
By Connor J. Benintendi Sports Editor

For Lynden volleyball’s four-year starters, there isn’t much left to accomplish in a high school athletic career.

Seniors Haylee Koetje, Ashley Shumate, Mya VanderYacht and Grace Rice have led Lynden to four consecutive double-digit win seasons, three Northwest Conference titles and a fifth-place state trophy. 

The only item left on the four seniors’ list is a state championship.

“It would be kind of a ‘happily ever after’ ending if we do win,” VanderYacht said. “We’re literally best friends, and it would just be so unreal. So, for me, that just brings so many emotions into the game.”

The Lynden quartet and the rest of their teammates are having one of the program’s best seasons to date. Class 2A Lynden is 16-1, with its only loss coming on Sept. 16 to Curtis, which finished fifth in last season’s 4A state tournament.

photo  Lynden’s four, four-year starters Haylee Koetje, Grace Rice, Mya VanderYacht and Ashley Shumate celebrate winning the second set Sept. 6 during a match against Sehome. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)  

Lynden has not dropped a single set since Sept. 18 (in a 3-1 win over Class 4A Lake Stevens), tearing through its league schedule with 36 straight set victories and 12 consecutive sweeps. The team’s 15-0 record in NWC matches is the first time Lynden has gone undefeated against league opponents since 2008. That Lions team went on to finish third in the 2A state tournament.

“That’s why we wanted to play those big games against Curtis and Lake Stevens,” Shumate said, “to really test us and find out what our limits are.”

With only six players on the court at any given time, the Lions’ personnel consistency has helped them improve with each passing season.

Following a COVID-shortened, 14-game spring season their freshman year, the four girls helped Lynden finish the 2021–22 season their sophomore year with a 15-7 record (12-3 NWC) after being the No. 6 seed in the 2A state tournament. The Lions lost in the quarterfinals to would-be state runners-up Ridgefield and were eliminated the next day in a five-set match with White River.

photo  Lynden’s Ashley Shumate spikes the ball past a Meridian defender Oct. 11 during a match against the Trojans. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)  

The Lions took another step in the 2022–23 campaign, entering state as the bracket’s No. 1 seed. After sweeping No. 16 Black Hills in the first round, Lynden suffered a crushing, five-set loss to No. 9 Pullman — a match that didn’t start until nearly 10 p.m. due to other contests running long. 

“That specific game [versus Pullman] just taught us so much about state,” VanderYacht said. “I think last year we wanted it so bad that the state championship game was all we were thinking about, and so we kind of overlooked our competition rather than staying in the moment.”

Lynden went on to finish fifth overall, capping their season at 20-3 (14-2 NWC) and returning home from the Yakima Valley SunDome with its first trophy since 2019. It was a lesson to not get too far ahead of themselves.

Shumate and Rice echoed VanderYacht, stating mental mistakes were their downfall and have been the team’s primary shortcoming in the past two seasons.

A state championship victory this season would be Lynden’s first in program history. The Lions reached consecutive state title games from 2017–18, but lost both. 

photo  Lynden’s Mya VanderYacht (2) leaps into the air in celebration Nov. 19, 2022, after the Lions scored the match point against Washington of Tacoma in the fifth/sixth-place game at the 2A state volleyball tournament. (Eric Trent/Cascadia Daily News)  

“I think for everyone, it’s the final goal,” Koetje said. “I know it’s not a new thing for all of us to be competing for it. I think that holds us accountable and pushes us to do it.”

Win or lose, much of their emotion comes from knowing all six seniors on this year’s team — who have played together since sixth grade — have a finite number of games left to play together. 

Shumate and Rice will both play volleyball at Biola University in La Mirada, California, next fall; Koetje will join in-state Northwest University’s program; and VanderYacht will play for Western Washington University rival, Central Washington University.

“We’re not going to be done with volleyball, but we’re done with this team,” Koetje said. “My love for them is insane. I love playing with them so much. I think that’s the hardest part — knowing that these next couple weeks, just to cherish every moment that we have at practice, games, on the bus, everything.”

photo  Lynden’s Haylee Koetje sends the ball over three Sehome defenders Sept. 6 during a match against the Mariners. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)  

Lynden head coach Chris Elsner, who has coached the quartet all four years, said their greatest strength is bringing together all 12 members of the team — four-year starter or not. That growth translates directly to who they are off the court as well, Elsner said.

The Lions will play their first 2A District 1 tournament game on Saturday, Oct. 28 versus an undetermined opponent. With only two state berths and four possible state contenders in the district (Burlington-Edison, Anacortes and Sehome), nothing is certain.

The 2A state volleyball tournament begins Friday, Nov. 10 at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

“I definitely am going to bawl my eyes out when it’s over,” VanderYacht said.

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