When Avery and Riley Dykstra won the Washington State 1A girls basketball championship with Lynden Christian High School in 2018, they didn’t know if they’d ever play together again.
Avery was a senior, committed to playing basketball at Western Washington University the following year. Riley was a sophomore who didn’t want to go to Western in an effort to be different from much of her extended family.
Now, Avery and Riley are the most recent Vikings to don the Dykstra name.
The two were both born in Bellingham and grew up in Lynden. They started playing YMCA basketball around their respective first-grade years but had miniature basketball hoops around the house since they can remember.
While they played several sports including soccer, volleyball and softball, Avery called basketball her first love, mentioning that it was always something that connected their family.
As children, the sisters’ main consumption of basketball came in the form of games at Western. They attended games at Sam Carver Gymnasium to watch their uncle Grant Dykstra, Western’s second all-time leading scorer.
“We were playing with the kids in the back, and then we’d go down and give [Grant] a hug after the game,” Avery said. “At that age, I don’t know how interested we were in what was going on.”
Avery, being two grade levels ahead of Riley, played her first high school basketball season in the 2014-15 academic year for Lynden Christian. This was also Lyncs’ coach Brady Bomber’s first year coaching.
Bomber, a long-time Lynden resident, began coaching one year following a playing career at St. Martin’s University. Both Avery and Riley attributed much of their development to Bomber.
“[Avery] was growing up as a player and developing; I was doing the same as a coach,” Bomber said. “We learned a lot of lessons and figured a lot of things out together.”
Bomber helped lead the sisters to three total state championships. One with Avery in 2016, one with both sisters in 2018 and one with Riley in 2020. Both sisters’ last high school game was a state championship victory.
The 2018 championship was Avery’s last game as a Lync, and it was a special one. Lynden Christian had won every previous game that season by double figures, but this would prove to be their biggest challenge yet.
They were matched up against the Cashmere Bulldogs and Hailey Van Lith, ESPN’s seventh-best player in the nation in the class of 2020.
“You get ready for Van Lith, who even as a sophomore was sensational,” Bomber said. “But we felt confident. Avery and Riley were the two that were asked to cover her throughout that game. Their abilities at both ends of the game and their poise were what allowed us [to win].”
The game came down to the last few possessions, and Lynden Christian and the Dykstra sisters ultimately won 50-48 to cap off an undefeated season.
“We didn’t really know at that point if we’d ever play basketball together again,” Riley said. “So that was kind of our last game together and ending it that way was super special.”
Ending her high school career with a championship, Avery wanted the same to end her collegiate career.
The sisters did help Western win the 2023 Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship, which was Avery’s last home game. But after Western lost in the first round of the Division II Women’s Basketball Championship tournament to Azusa Pacific University 71-53, Avery’s athletic career ended at Western.
“I don’t think any of us went into that game thinking that losing was even a possibility,” Avery said. “I don’t think we were mentally prepared for that to be the last game. So obviously, there’s all those emotions, especially for me, that being my last game. It was really sad.”
Riley added, “I think it’s weird because my first year we made it the furthest we could, so I was just kind of expecting to do that again.”
In the 2021-22 season, Western made it all the way to the Division II championship game, where they lost 85-72 to Glenville State University. After winning their conference and ending the 2023 season with a 24-4 record, Western earned a second seed, confident they could reach that same tournament success of the year prior. While they fell short of those goals, it was still a successful season for the Vikings.
“I am really proud of the team and the season that we had,” Avery said. “I try not to base the season off of that last game but off all the accomplishments that we had before that and the way we’ve been playing.”
There’s a lot to be proud of, especially their conference title, which is the team’s third since 2013.
“That just felt like a storybook ending, right? Couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out,” Avery said.
Avery’s transition from her playing career to the workforce leaves Western in a difficult position. Riley mentioned that they only have six girls participating in spring workouts right now.
Although Riley played the third most minutes on the team behind Avery and Brooke Walling, the Vikings’ leading scorer, she still looks forward to becoming a more impactful leader as well as taking on a bigger role both offensively and defensively.
Riley averaged 7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 24.8 minutes per game, and started 27 out of 28 games this past season. While Riley expects to shoulder more responsibility next season, it will take a full-team effort to replace Avery’s production.
“I think a lot of people are going to have to step up; those are some pretty big shoes to fill,” Walling said. “But everyone on the team works so hard. Maddy [Grandbois] plays amazing defense as well, so I think she’s going to step into that role so easily. And then obviously our other guards are going to be really good floor generals. So, it’s going to be hard, but it’s definitely something that we can do.”
Avery is the reigning back-to-back GNAC Defensive Player of the Year and made the all-GNAC first team, averaging 7.7 points, 2.8 assists and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 44.1% from the field and 39.1% from deep in 28.5 minutes per game as a starter this season.
“Honestly, I feel like I got that reward, but it was a team award,” Avery said of her DPOY honors. “Our team plays the best defense and then they just gave it to me, but I think it was more of an award for our team.”
As Avery leaves, she and Riley’s cousin, Demi Dykstra, is set to join the Vikings for the 2023-24 season, carrying on the legacy that her parents started.
Demi’s mother Kelly Dykstra, who is Avery and Riley’s aunt, played at Western from 2003 to 2006. Her sister, Katie Colard, played from 2011 to 2015. A few years after that, it was Avery’s turn, followed by Riley and now Demi. The Dykstras have created an almost 20-year legacy on the women's basketball team.
Alongside Bomber, Kelly coached Riley and Avery when the sisters played at Lynden Christian.
“It’s been fun to watch them and be able to continue to grow that relationship with them,” Kelly said.
Kelly and her husband Greg, another former Western athlete, are looking forward to watching Demi as she continues her basketball career at their alma mater.
“We never really wanted to push Demi in that direction because you know, you want your kids to define their own path for themselves. So, we never really knew where it was going to take her, and we kind of just encouraged her and supported her where we could,” Greg said. “We obviously threw subtle hints at her once in a while. We’re super excited to watch her grow most importantly as a person but also as a basketball player [at Western].”
Demi will follow in the footsteps of her two older cousins and have the opportunity to play alongside Riley.
While Riley now has a new Dykstra to serve as her running mate, she treasures the time she and Avery had together at Western.
“It’s been so fun,” Riley said. “I definitely think our friendship grew a lot. I just felt so comfortable all the time having her around me, and it’s sad that she won’t be here these next few years.”
Avery mentioned that even though she won’t be playing competitive basketball anymore, the sport will continue to be a big part of her life. She will still return to Carver to watch her former teammates, and most importantly, her sister play.
“I’m just really thankful for the opportunity to play with her,” Avery said. “Basketball has been something that we’ve been able to bond over for the last 15 years of our lives, and it just made it so much more fun. It was always our dream to play college basketball together, but the fact that that was actually a reality is just really cool.”
Click here to read more about Demi Dykstra and her entrance into Vikings basketball.
Andrew Foster (he/him) is a sports reporter at The Front. He enjoys listening to music, playing basketball and is working towards a degree in journalism.
You can reach him at email@example.com.
Genesi Funston is a sports reporter for The Front. She is working towards a degree in public relations journalism. In her free, time she loves to run, read, play basketball and listen to rap music. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.