Mesquite's Lindsey VanAllen and Shaylee Gonzales aim high at Nike Tournament of Champions
Lindsey VanAllen was bouncing from sport to sport when she was 8 years old. Then a simple handoff gave her pause.
Her dad, Terry, always encouraged his daughter to dish out a "thank you" to the local rec league basketball refs after the final buzzer. One time, that custom gave way to a new opportunity -- one that she's still grateful for today.
"This one ref flipped me his business card. He was a club coach," Terry said. "He said, 'Hey, I run a girls' club team.'"
That coach happened to coach alongside Josh Gonzales, who had a daughter the same age as Lindsey.
Ever since, Lindsey, a 5-foot-8 shooting guard, and Shaylee Gonzales, a 5-foot-9 point guard, have hooped alongside each other. Today, they are reigning state champions at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, Arizona.
This week, as seniors, they have national aspirations. They'll try to lead Mesquite, winners of 37 straight games dating to November 2016, to the prestigious title at the Nike Tournament of Champions. The tournament brings more than 80 top-tier girls basketball teams to the Phoenix area each year.
Lindsey and Shaylee are determined to show out in their final TOC appearance. Mesquite already showed that it can hang with the nation's best last year by winning its division. This year, the team has been placed in the tournament's top division, which features national powerhouses such as Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, California), Centennial (Las Vegas) Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tennessee), Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Maryland) and St. John's College (Washington, D.C.). Mesquite opens against North Little Rock of Arkansas.
"We practice in that gym every day," Lindsey said. "And we get a lot of people from school coming out. It really helps us."
Added Candice Gonzales, the head coach at Mesquite and Shaylee's mom: "It's fun to see how they match up to those other guards. I feel like it pushes you to a whole other level."
Someday, that level will include West Coast Conference basketball schedules. Lindsey has signed with Santa Clara. Shaylee picked BYU.
Candice, who runs Team Arizona, an AAU team, with Josh, could tell when they were kids that Lindsey and Shaylee might one day team up to make a formidable 1-2 punch.
"Shaylee could handle the rock," Candice said. "Lindsey [was] a little shooting firecracker at the 3-point line."
Not much has changed. Mesquite celebrated a banner season last year, capturing the 5A state title. Shaylee averaged 19.8 points, 6.6 steals and 5.7 assists en route to Arizona's Gatorade Player of the Year award. Lindsey's stat line was just as impressive: 17.8 points, 3.3 assists and 3.3 steals.
That confetti-filled moment, which capped a 31-1 season and a No. 13 finish in the espnW 25 Power Rankings, has pushed Lindsey and Shaylee to set the bar high again. And why not? From attending Phoenix Mercury games together to running drills together, they've put in a lot of time -- together.
"They'll look at me if one's not in the game, 'Help, get the other one back in,'" Candice said. "They rely on each other a lot."
Both want to set an example for Mesquite's younger players.
"That feeling of being state champs, we definitely want to have that feeling again," Shaylee said.
Beyond that, Lindsey dreams of one day becoming a lawyer and expanding her ever-growing collection of Nike sneakers.
At BYU, Shaylee wants to study business or dive deeper into photography. She's made headway already, starting her own photo venture: Sincerely Shaylee. She's already shooting weddings and senior pictures.
But for this week, it's back to shooting hoops for Shaylee and Lindsey and shooting for a title for Shaylee, Lindsey and Candice.
"It's a great feeling to have them always on my side," Lindsey said. "It's just been awesome playing with Shaylee and for them."