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PREP GIRLS: A starter since her eighth-grade year, Adrian's Sam Lynn looking for title

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Adrian's Sam Lynn looks to set up the offense during Friday's Section 3A finals in Montevideo.

ADRIAN -- Sam Lynn can't remember her first varsity game. She can't recall how she played, the game's outcome, or her team's opponent.

It was too long ago.

A senior guard on Adrian's girls' basketball team, Lynn began her varsity career as an eighth-grader. She leapfrogged the B-squad level and started as the Dragons' point guard before she even had her driver's permit.

"I was a little freaked out because I didn't really have the transition; I never played B-squad, so it was a jump from playing seventh-grade basketball to varsity," she said. "I played with the varsity a little bit during the summer, but I definitely was really nervous about it. But it was just one of those things where you have to get through it."

Lynn made it through her first varsity game and season as an eighth-grader, but she can't remember how.

"I do not remember; I couldn't tell you," she said, laughing. "I can't tell you who we played or anything."

Lynn held her own against much older opponents. She quickly gained the respect of her opposition and the trust of her teammates and Adrian coach Randy Strand. Despite her youth and inexperience, Lynn made the all-Red Rock Conference team. But she has a hard time remembering the success she had. She can recall the mistakes she made, although there were few, including an incident that drew the ire of Strand.

Lynn got hurt and missed a handful of games during her eighth-grade year. In her first game back, she came off the bench.

"I went in for the wrong girl," Lynn said, laughing. "And (Strand) was like, 'How do you forget?' I was like, 'I don't know; I'm nervous over here, OK?'

"He said, 'Go in there for Thier.' And I walked out on the floor and thought, 'There are two Thiers on the floor - which one do I go in for?' So I'm looking and thinking, 'OK, which one looks more tired?' I went in for one of them, and (Strand) looks at me like, 'What are you doing?' I wasn't going to talk back to him. I was just like, 'All right, I'll let this one go.'"

Said Strand, laughing: "I hope she doesn't take that to the grave with her."

Strand didn't take it easy on Lynn, saying he treated her like any other varsity player. He realized Lynn had the potential to be great when she was just a fourth-grader excelling in drills with the sixth-grade team. When she reached the eighth-grader level, Strand inserted her in the starting lineup without hesitation.

"It was pretty easy; she was the best ballhandler we had in the program," he said. "It wasn't that hard; we knew Sam was going to be our point guard coming in as an eighth-grader. I think her teammates at that time just accepted the fact that she was good at what she did.

"Teams would be pressing us and we'd throw the ball into Sam and I'd say, 'All right, clear out.' And she was bringing the ball up against seniors and juniors and sophomores, and then you have (opposing) coaches going, 'Oh, we have to hear that for the next five years.' And, all of a sudden, you've got your press-breaker for the next five years."

But younger athletes who get called upon to play over upperclassmen rarely have it easy, whether the heat is coming from coaches, teammates, fans or parents.

"I think I got it a little worse than everyone else, to be honest," Lynn said. "I don't think very many people liked me.

"I think I was pretty confident, just because Coach always had my back. If he put that much trust in me, I wasn't going to let him down. I never really felt much pressure. I knew if they wanted me there, I was good enough to be there. The older girls kind of got on my case a little bit, but it was just fun being out there. It was tough, but I knew I wanted to be there. And, as the season went on, people started to see that I could do it and that I wasn't a big joke."

Five years later, in her final season, Lynn has solidified herself as a star.

A five-time all-conference selection, Lynn led Class A in assists this season and was one of 35 players in the state to be named a finalist for the Minnesota Miss Basketball award. She also holds nearly every major record in the Adrian girls' basketball program. Lynn is the all-time leader in points (2,020), assists (940), rebounds (752) and steals (395). She has played in 126 games and is shooting 50 percent from the field in her career.

She currently is averaging 15 points, nine assists, 6.9 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game for Adrian (28-1), which went 17-0 in the RRC en route to its second consecutive league title and its first appearance in the state tournament.

The Dragons, who were ranked No. 3 in the final Class A poll, will face top-ranked Barnum (30-0), which was the runner-up in last year's tournament, at 5 p.m. Thursday at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis.

"I think everybody is going to be happy to be there, but we're not satisfied just to go up there," Lynn said. "We definitely want to impress some people and upset a couple of teams."