LACEY — Every day without fail, Hayley Niles and Steven Stone — cousins and respective leading scorers on North Thurston High’s girls and boys basketball teams — know what’s coming when they exit their grandparents’ home, a place they visit daily.
The words, from grandpa Dan Locatis, are good advice for any basketball player: Follow your shot. Don’t forget to rebound, too.
“That’s a quote,” Niles said, “ ‘Follow your shot — Grandpa.’ ”
Added Stone: “That’s the No. 1 thing we hear.”
If you’ve never met Stone, a senior, and Niles, a junior, you’d assume they’re siblings, not cousins. They have as close a relationship as a brother and sister, and they look eerily alike: Hayley is 6-foot-2 and her long blond ponytail is a noticeable feature, while the short blond-
haired Steven is 6-5.
They’re not the only Niles clan to do good work on the basketball court at North Thurston. Their mothers, sisters Georgie (Hayley’s mom) and Lisa (Steven’s), who also work at the high school, played for former longtime coach Bill Mendelson, as did middle sister Dena Niles, who was Timberline’s coach from 1996-2003. All three played in college, including Georgie at Saint Martin’s.
Their mother, Nancy, was awarded a plaque by Mendelson years ago, celebrating 10 years worth of Niles in his program in the mid-1980s and early ’90s. Nancy still goes to games, watching her granddaughter and grandson star for the Rams.
“She’s been to more basketball games than any mother I’ve met in my life,” said Georgie Niles, who has taught her daughter and nephew at North Thurston.
As much as Hayley and Steven enjoy a backyard pick-up game of one-on-one, basketball was far from the first sport they played together – baseball and football go back to their elementary school days.
One year, they were both wide receivers — yes, even Hayley — on the same Black Hills Youth Football League team, where, as Steven said, Hayley “held her own.”
“It was rough,” she said.
Steven averages 14.5 points a game for a Rams team that has won four of its past five games going into a home game with Timberline at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
On a senior-laden team two years ago, Steven was a starting forward out of necessity, but now his positions range from wing to forward. He has also adjusted to be the No. 1 focus of opponents, and works for most of the points he gets. He’s now a defined leader on a young team, but he has eliminated goal-setting; it stressed him out too much.
“I just come in and have fun,” he said. “The game has come a lot more easy for me. It’s made me enjoy it more.”
Hayley hit a growth spurt and is approaching 6-3 on her first full varsity season. Prior to a shoulder injury sustained in Friday’s 56-51 win over Mount Tahoma, she was averaging a little less than 10 points a game.
Mike Harn, in his third year coaching the Rams girls, labeled Niles as the team’s best 3-point shooter, but the rise in her confidence in recent weeks has separated her from the player she used to be, especially in the paint.
“She’s figuring out that if I go up strong, I will get to the rim,” Harn said. “She’s changed her thought process.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com theolympian.com/ south-sound-sports-blog