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Retracing Hailey Van Lith’s small-town high school basketball rise: Nobody created a buzz like this edgy, generational talent

The ex-Cashmere High School star and all-time leading scorer in Washington high school girls basketball is playing in this weekend's Final Four for Louisville

From playground pavement to homecourt hardwood, Hailey Van Lith has a long basketball-battle memory.

And a list of grudges to prove it.

Which you might not expect from the all-time Washington high school scoring queen from Cashmere High School, who has won far more encounters than she's lost.

It's just that the ones she has let get away, she remembers most.

"Start rooting against her," said Cashmere girls coach Brent Darnell, "and that's like pouring gasoline on a fire."

The Naismith and McDonald's All-American who departed the high school ranks with a record 2,994 career points is now a sophomore starting point guard at Louisville, which plays South Carolina in this weekend's "Final Four" of the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament.



Three high school coaches from her home state, including Darnell, reflected on their most memorable Van Lith moments:

'A REAL PROBLEM FOR THE NEXT FOUR YEARS'

Hailey Van Lith, Cashmere girls basketball

Hailey Van Lith's last game in high school came in the Class 1A championship - a loss to Lynden Christian.

Brady Bomber is the coach of one of the most successful girls programs in Washington at Lynden Christian, which just wrapped up its 14th state title last month in the Class 1A ranks.

Very few coaches know what's going on in all corners of the state better than Bomber, who has been the coach of four of those 1A titles.

Bomber had heard of an up-and-comer from Cashmere before the 2016-17. A friend of his mentioned her name - Van Lith - and said he was talented.

So he drove over early in the season to watch her play another small-school powerhouse in Okanogan.

"She made a play in transition, and I immediately called one of my assistants," Bomber said. "I was just in shock. I was, 'Wow!' They said she was good. But when I watched her, she was way better than I understood.

"I told my assistant she was going to be a real problem for the next four years."

Indeed, she and the Bulldogs were - they went 84-7 during her tenure at the school.

Van Lith also played in one of the golden stretches of 1A basketball with the likes of Lynden Christian, La Salle, Mount Baker, King's and Annie Wright around. Astonishingly, she never won a state title.

Van Lith's Cashmere squad made it to the state championship game three times during her career. The Bulldogs lost all of them - by a combined six points.

The final appearance was in 2019-20 when Van Lith was a senior, and Cashmere was eight minutes away from posting an unbeaten run to its first state title in school history.

Van Lith tallied 16 of her game-high 27 points in the third quarter, swishing a pair of 3-pointers in the final 38 seconds - the last one from at least 25 feet away.

Lynden Christian rallied behind a 13-0 fourth-quarter run to win the game, 58-55.

"She brought so much attention to 1A basketball," Bomber said. "That's because she is so special."

'YOU CAN'T GUARD HER!'

Hailey Van Lith, Cashmere girls basketball

Just like Mount Spokane players predicted in their non-league matchup, Hailey Van Lith scored 40 points against the GSL champions.

In 2018-19, David Pratt knew his Mount Spokane team had the making of a state contender, led by Aspyn Adams, Emily Nelson and Jayda Noble.

But the Wildcats decided to make an early-season detour and play in the Cashmere winter tournament.

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By then, the whole state knew who Van Lith was, including a 3A powerhouse such as Mount Spokane.

A text message from one of the Wildcats' players began circulating throughout the game in the days leading up to the showdown: "Hailey can score 40, and we can still win."

"It became our mantra," Pratt said.

Van Lith was unstoppable, scoring at will. 

"Their crowd was all over us, and they would go, 'You can’t guard her!'" Pratt said. "And I am like, 'No, we can’t.'"

But the Wildcats' balance was too much. They won, 67-56.

After the game, Pratt raced down to the scorer's table. He had a hunch on Van Lith's scoring total - and was right on when it was announced she had, indeed, scored 40 points.

"In the locker room, they were going bonkers," Pratt said. "It was exactly what we needed to get ready for state."

The next year as the 3A runners-up, the Wildcats returned to the Cashmere holiday event. Van Lith only scored 23, but the Bulldogs avenged the defeat with a 57-48 victory.

"Van Lith looked at me in the post-game line and said, 'You got me last time, but (today) was my turn,'" Pratt said.

'SHE LOVES THE FIGHT MORE THAN SHE LOVES THE VICTORY'

Hailey Van Lith, Cashmere girls basketball

Cashmere's Hailey Van Lith never forgets losses, and always aims to get even - or the best of somebody.

Not surprisingly, with Van Lith and Louisville deep in the NCAA tournament, Darnell got more than a few interview requests this week.

Darnell not only coached Van Lith in all four of her seasons at Cashmere, he even was a former teammate at Eastmont of her father, Corey.

"They never forget anything," Darnell said. "They would seek out negative publicity, and that would fire (Corey) up and get his motor going. And that fired Hailey up."

Darnell had a lifetime's worth of memories with Van Lith as the point guard, especially in wins against bigger programs.

One of his most vivid actually came at the Gonzaga University summer camp in 2017 when the Bulldogs were invited by the college coaching staff to play against none other than 4A favorite Central Valley, led by Stanford-bound Lexie and Lacie Hull.