Be the best.
That’s been Hailey Van Lith’s mantra most of her life.
Why settle for good when you can be great?
As a kid watching girls basketball at Cashmere High School, Van Lith envisioned becoming the greatest scorer in program history.
But she knew that wouldn’t be good enough.
“I was in middle school and I was like ‘I want to take on the state record,’” she said.
Van Lith did just that, head on, and broke Jennifer Stinson’s long-standing state record Saturday with 46 points as the top-ranked Bulldogs (21-0) rolled past Omak 84-28 in the Class 1A Caribou Trail League championship game at Eastmont High School. The 5-foot-10 senior guard has 2,886 career points to surpass the 2,881 Stinson scored for Davenport from 1991-95.
“It’s just the greatest feeling,” she said in a postgame phone call. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Hailey, who is the No. 2 senior in the nation according to prospectnation.com, first talked about the record as a seventh grader, according to Corey Van Lith, her father and trainer.
“Hailey’s kind of had this thing that she wants to be the best to play, and it was the best in the state, the best in the country,” Corey said. “And her idea was, ‘to claim that, I want to be able to set these records.’”
Hailey went into Saturday’s game 41 points shy of the mark.
“It’s an individual goal I have been working toward for a long time,” she said earlier in the week. “Pushing myself to get better each year to break it has helped me (improve), and (breaking) it would reaffirm my hard work, but honestly it’s not one of my main goals.”
The record might not last long — junior Julianna Walker of Annie Wright in Tacoma already has 2,291 points.
But for Hailey, who has signed with Louisville, the main goal this season is winning a state championship for her teammates and community. The Bulldogs have come close — finishing second in 2017 and ’18 and third last year — but have yet to hang a banner.
“That’s her No. 1 priority right now,” Corey said.
Hailey has always been goal-oriented and never shy about sharing them. She checked one off her list last month by being named to the McDonald’s All-American team, along with Garfield’s Dalayah Daniels, and she made the cut for the Jordan Brand Classic. She is among the 10 semifinalists for the Naismith High School Girls Trophy.
Hailey’s longer-term goals include winning multiple national championships at Louisville as well as becoming a first-round WNBA draft choice and an Olympic gold medalist. She already has five gold medals from her stints with USA Basketball and last year was the FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup MVP.
If her dreams seem sky-high, Hailey’s personality is down to earth, according to Cashmere coach Brent Darnell.
“She is a really fun girl to be around,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone who can go from this total competitor, killer, assassin on the basketball court to this nicest, sweetest, kindest, goofiest, laughing girl.”
Darnell calls her “a fantastic teammate” who loves interacting with little kids in their basketball camps.
“She’s just a very special girl,” he said. “As a basketball player, she’s just the best I’ve ever seen, girl or guy.”
She does more than score, averaging 9.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 4.6 steals.
Hailey couples natural talent with an uncommon work ethic.
Corey Van Lith said her athleticism was apparent even as a toddler.
“It was pretty evident early in Hailey’s life that she was different, just moved different than everybody else, and was incredibly gifted and athletic,” he said. “I remember when she was like 1 and she would do stuff … and I would be shaking my head and thinking, that’s not normal.”
Brother Tanner, 2½ years older, played basketball and baseball and Hailey was quick to join in.
“She could compete with them and they were 2-3 years older than her,” Corey said. “She always wanted to go shoot and dribble. I was renting gyms out two hours a night by fourth grade.”
Hailey played select basketball and softball (she had Division I scholarship offers in softball by eighth grade, Corey said) and trained daily for both before deciding to narrow her focus before her sophomore year.
Her penchant softball paled in comparison to her passion for basketball.
“I am just in love with the game,” Hailey said. “I can’t get enough of it.”
Especially after the recent loss of Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna, whom she had grown close to since last summer. They were in Cashmere to watch Hailey play just last month.
“Basketball has been the only place where that hard grief and stuff I’ve been dealing with, it goes away, because in basketball, I don’t have to think about that stuff,” she said. “It’s just always been an escape.”
And Hailey Van Lith wants to be the best at it.