ARLINGTON — Lyndsay Leatherman wasn’t pleased with her first game of the season.
A co-captain and the lone senior on the Arlington girls basketball team, Leatherman scored just four points in a 56-40 season-opening win over Marysville Pilchuck.
The victory served as a reality check for Leatherman — and motivation to elevate her game.
“I came out thinking I was going to dominate Marysville, like no one can guard me,” she said. “I thought I was going to be really good and then I had a bad game. I was thinking about it and was just like, ‘I need to collect myself and be better.’ Then in the next game I really improved.”
Lynnwood vs. Arlington, tonight, 7:15 p.m. at Arlington H.S.
Leatherman, a 6-foot-1 post, scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Arlington’s next outing, a nail-biting 45-42 win over Stanwood, and she’s continued to lead the way for the 12-1 Eagles, who are ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press Class 4A poll.
“It was really just her deciding she was going to play the way she could,” Arlington head coach Joe Marsh said.
After missing the first half of her junior season with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), Leatherman returned on Jan. 16 of last year against a tough Lynnwood squad. Each team was at the top of its conference, with Lynnwood leading the Wesco 4A South and Arlington ahead in the 4A North.
Lynnwood won 47-39, with Leatherman scoring only one point in limited minutes.
“She was nowhere near 100 percent,” Marsh said. “I think she was about 65 percent of what she would have been.”
Still, Leatherman was able to contribute the rest of the way, helping the Eagles advance to the Class 4A state championship game, where they fell to Mead 58-42.
Now that Leatherman is fully recovered, she has been the post presence her coach envisioned before the injury. This season, she’s averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds a game. Leather and Arlington travel to take on No. 1-ranked Lynnwood in a big Wesco showdown tonight at 7:15 p.m.
“Last year I was expecting her to come in, be a starter and do all this,” Marsh said.
Leatherman has been the leader of a young Arlington squad that features two juniors and eight sophomores.
“She’s stepped up so much this year,” junior guard and co-captain Jessica Ludwig said. “Her and I have been playing sports together forever. We’re best friends. Last year it was tough not having her be at full strength. You could tell she was nervous about it. But this year she’s stepped up so much and been a leader out on the court and we’ve all been looking up to her.”
Simply having Leatherman on the court makes the Eagles better. As Leatherman and standout sophomore Jayla Russ draw defenders into the post, Arlington’s shooters find themselves open on the perimeter.
“Lyndsay is valuable to us because she just makes your life easier,” Marsh said, “If we get her the ball, it gets you open and we can reverse the ball to open shooters.”
Leatherman has drawn praise from other Wesco coaches, including Lynnwood head coach Everett Edwards, who said stopping her is a key for the Royals if they hope to beat Arlington in tonight’s matchup of Wesco powers.
“The one thing I know is she’s a tremendous athlete,” Edwards said. “She is a great athlete and a very strong young lady. She’s a senior as well, so we realize that she is the focal point of what they’re trying to do offensively. It’s going to take a great effort to keep her from getting her touches.”
Lynnwood beat Arlington twice last season, including a 61-49 victory in the district championship game. The Eagles know Lynnwood will be a challenge and are eager to see how they stack up against a team many have pegged as a state-championship contender.
“I personally think they’re better this year,” Marsh said. “We had two decent games against them last season. We played OK and they got us both times. We’re really just excited for the challenge. I really do think that if they’re not the best team in the state, they’re one of them. I really think they could be playing for a state championship. It’s just a good test for us. We’re excited for the opportunity.”
Leatherman, who finished third at the 2013 state track and field meet in the javelin, discus and shot put, has verbally committed to the University of Washington track and field team. But before she hangs up her sneakers, she wants to help Arlington get as far as it can in her final year of basketball.
“I want to go back to state,” she said, then quickly added, “but I’m not thinking about that right now.”
Right now, Leatherman and her teammates are focused on Lynnwood — and on rebounding from a tough 51-48 loss to Kamiak on Wednesday.
“I think that (Wednesday’s) game really taught us a lesson,” Leatherman said. “Coming into that Lynnwood game having that loss is probably going to help us.”
Added Ludwig: “That just puts fuel in the fire.”
Not that Arlington needed any extra motivation against the Royals.
“I’ve been looking forward to it all season,” Ludwig said. “It’s our biggest game of the year. We’re really excited to show them what we can do.”