Coming into this season, the biggest question facing the George Mason High School girls varsity basketball team was how the Mustangs could stay atop the Bull Run District with a relatively young roster. The answer, six games into the Bull Run District schedule, has been defense.
In all but one of those six games the Mustangs have kept their opponents under 40 points, and have thrice held the opposition under 30.
“Our team defense has really come along,” Mason Head Coach William Broderick said. “I think it starts with playing physical and developing a toughness about us and we were doing that game in and game out.”
That toughness was on full display during Mason’s 40-27 victory over Madison County last Thursday night at Mustang Gymnasium. After a slim three-point lead after the first quarter, Mason held its opponent to just two points for the entire second period. By halftime the Mustangs had turned a three-point margin into a 10-point advantage.
The intermission did nothing to slow down Mason’s defensive tenacity, as Madison County would not score again until 1:50 remained in the third quarter. The dye had been cast by that point. By the time the Mountaineers scored their 14th point, the Mustangs’ 10-point lead had blossomed to 20 and they were never troubled again.
Kim Kenny led Mason with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Bailey Walton also finished in double figures with 10 points. Equally impressive were Walton’s eight steals on the defensive end of the court.
Ashley Thompson continued her usually gritty work under the backboards with seven rebounds. Annie Zweighaft struck twice from the perimeter to account for all six of her points, while Nicole Mitchell finished the game with five.
But it was the defense that bottled up the Madison County attack and allowed the Mustangs to slowly pull away for their fifth district victory of the season. Mason recorded 16 total steals for the game.
“We are doing a great job of pressuring the ball and getting into passing lanes, making it hard for our opponents to start their offense,” Broderick said. “I also think our posts are doing a great job of fronting and not giving up a lot of easy baskets in the key.”
The staunch Mason defense has taken some of the pressure of the maturation process for a number of first-year starters and varsity players on the team. It has not, however, overshadowed the strides that those players have made as the season has gone on. Broderick is quick to point out the rapid improvement displayed by a number of girls on his team, including point guard Rachel Kazman, freshman Nicole Mitchell and sophomore Mayssa Chehata.
“I think there have been a lot of players who have improved a great deal this year, but a lot of them are just living up to the potential they already possessed,” Broderick said. “If I had to pick a most improved player at this time in the year, it would be tough to do.”
Now with a record of 5-1 in the Bull Run District (10-8 overall), the Mustangs control their destiny for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. That would allow Mason to host its district semi-final game in the friendly confines of Mustang Gym. Their next games come Friday at Clarke County and then at home next Wednesday against Strasburg. Clarke County is the lone district team to defeat the Mustangs, winning a 51-47 contest Jan. 4.
“At this point in the season, we are looking to improve on our execution and develop a level of consistency on both ends of the court,” Broderick said. “We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season. That is still our goal.”
Tip off next Wednesday is at 7:30 p.m.