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Michigan girls basketball legend steps in as boys varsity coach for one night

Lindsey Nyenhuis is as an assistant coach for longtime friend Joe Soules at Forest Hills Northern. But she was in charge for one of the biggest games of the year.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The lights went out at Northview High School's gym. The only thing illuminating the gym in that moment was light from the scoreboard and the glow of a spotlight that shined on Northview players, who had gathered in a circle at center court. 

It was intense moment that might normally intimidate visiting players who know they're about to take on one of the best teams in the state. But if you were to ask Lindsey Nyenhuis, she would tell you that's when all her "pesky nerves" went away.

"Mentally, I think I reset like a player and it was go time, and everything else, all the other noise, it had subsided," said Nyenhuis, who served as head coach for Forest Hills Northern that night after coach Joe Soules tested positive for COVID-19.

It's not unheard of for a woman to coach a boy's varsity basketball team in Michigan at the high school level, but it certainly is unusual. However, what Lyenhuis will remember about that game on Friday, Jan. 7 is the respect and confidence she's earned.

"I think more importantly than the female thing or coaching a varsity game, it was just knowing that there is trust there, by obviously the administration and by Joe who I see as like a big brother," she said.

Nyenhuis and Soules go back a long way. 

"I think since I was in the fourth grade. I was the water girl. That's how I started in this gym, and since then, we've been in touch because my dad coached with him in some way, shape, or form for the last 18 years. So, yeah, it's been a long time since I've known Joe. I look up to him, not only as a coach, but as a person," Nyenhuis said.

Nyenhuis was a legend as a player at Forest Hills Northern and she went on to play Big Ten Conference basketball in college at the University of Iowa. Those credentials certainly give her credibility among the players on the boys team, and the girls who she coached for the last three seasons prior to this one. But Soules says reasons the players love and respect Nyenhuis go well beyond her playing days.

"She has such a passion for the game. She has such a knack for connection, not only with these young men, but in her work life, and it shows every day. It just shows. She has full command of these guys at all times in our breakdowns," said Soules, who is the reigning Michigan high school boys basketball coach of the year in Division 1.

"She's a phenomenal human. She's so sweet. She's so nice. She wants to know what's genuinely going on in your life, and that's a sign of a good person and a great friend and a great coach."

Nyenhuis says she loves the players she's gotten the chance to know this season.

"They're fun. They're funny. They're very smart. They do come to practice and they work hard, and if you correct them on something or if you give them some kind of a concept, they're all yours. They want to get better. They want to be the best that they can," she said.

"What I love most about coaching is finding what makes each individual tick. And then once you can find that, you learn how to communicate with them, and because you learn how to communicate with them, and because you've learned what makes them tick, you can take something that's a weakness or something that they want to work on, and progressively they get better."

Forest Hills Northern plays at Forest Hills Central on Friday at 6 p.m.

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