The second half of its Bull Run District season stalled by the weather-induced postponement of last night’s scheduled game at Madison County, the George Mason High School boys basketball team awaits Clarke County this Friday night at home.
Tip off is set for 7:30 p.m.
But according to Coach Chris Capannola, showing up at 6:15 p.m. to watch the Mason Junior Varsity could prove rewarding, as that team has at least three players on it who stand to wind up on the varsity team before the year is over, and who offer bright hopes for the program in the future.
Capannola is in his third year back at the Mason boys helm since leaving following the magical 2001 season when he took the Mustangs to the state Final Four tournament in Lynchburg.
The coach has fond memories of that storied season, when his team posted the best record in school history, winning the Bull Run District title outright before setting off on a pilgrimage through post-season district and regional playoff games.
“I don’t take the credit for what they did,” he said in a recent interview with the News-Press. “There was a quality of leadership, in addition to skill, on that team that I’ve never experienced as a coach.”
After leaving Mason that summer, he coached in Ohio for three years before returning to the Mason helm as the most successful boys basketball coach in the school’s history in 2006.
“That 2001 team was more tight-knit, better conditioned, and an amazingly relentless group of competitors,” he recalled, citing the leadership of Nathan Hamme and the scoring proficiency of Kenny Wilson. “Every practice resembled game-like conditions.”
Now, Mason is challenged to emerge with a winning record in the Bull Run District, going 2-2 in the first half with four games to go. Capannola said that scheduling tougher AA-ranked non-conference schools in the early going took its toll on the team’s overall record, which is 4-11.
“Playing bigger schools helps improve us, but it’s also the case that there are not that many non-conference single-A schools in the area to compete against,” he said. “Still, evidence of progress on this year’s team is clear.”
Last season, his team wound up 13-14, but won seven in a row at the end, making it to the regional semifinals before losing. Capannola hopes that something like that is still in store for this year’s team.
The squad is led by third-year varsity player, senior Joel Chandler, whose shooting is sharpening after a slow start. He’s averaging close to 15 points and 10 rebounds a game. Senior Josh Brew has been pivotal as the point guard and six foot, seven inch junior Jordan Cheney has been an improving and imposing presence on the inside.
There are high expectations for Cheney, Capannola said, but he’s been double teamed by almost everyone and still needs improvement offensively.
The coach also singled out his bench for major contributions to the team effort, but said poor free throw shooting, at barely 50 percent, has been a downfall.
“We’ve tried everything,” he said about the free throw problem, “including trying to simulate pressure situations in practice. Everyone’s form is OK, but in games, it seems like they’re hoping, instead of being confident, that their shots will go in.”
But help from three players currently on the junior varsity team could improve Mason’s chances moving toward the post-season. Freshman Jeremy Stewart is a talented shooter, Capannola said, while sophomore Patrick Rollo brings strength and freshman Nate Ogle brings size.
Last night’s postponed game had not been rescheduled as of press time, but may be Monday night, since Mason has already canceled its non-conference game against Word of Life set for that date. Remaining Mason home games are with Strasburg on Feb. 4 and Potomac Falls Feb. 9 prior to the post-season.