While it was a bittersweet evening for the players, what happened on the court was the sweet part: the Mustangs stomped Bull Run District foe Manassas Park 44-30.
The senior-studded starting lineup consisting of Abby Stroup, Mayssa Chehata, Kim Kenny, Paige Kerrigan and Chantal Thomas, the only junior to get the starting nod, did not get off to the quick start they had hoped for, surrendering three quick buckets to Manassas Park senior Leann Breeden. After Breeden’s third shot gave Manassas a 6-2 lead just two minutes into the game, Coach Thomas took a timeout to calm his team down. Following the timeout, Mason went on a 16-2 run to close out the first quarter and from there, there was no looking back.
After allowing eight points in the opening three minutes, the Mustangs did not allow another one until two minutes into the second quarter when Manassas Park’s Che Brown banked a three-pointer from the top of the arc. The defense was led by the shot blocking of Kenny in the paint along with the quick hands of Chantal Thomas, junior Nicole Mitchell, and freshman Bria Platenburg. Throughout the second quarter, the trio of guards used the full-court press to pick off several Park inbounds passes, taking them in for easy layups as they built on an already double-digit lead.
The press has been a trademark of Coach Thomas’ D all season, and is something the team hangs their hats on. “When the press goes on, we’re just into overdrive,” said Chehata. “I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone go on a run against us when we’ve had the press on. With Lauren Kane running, and Nicole Mitchell and Chantal Thomas trapping, it’s just really hard to break.”
Behind Mitchell’s 14 first half-points, the Mustangs took a 30-13 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, Mason relied mostly on their strong core of underclassmen. Platenburg and fellow freshmen Leah Roth and Lauren Kane kept the offense flowing for the Mustangs, shutting down any hope of a comeback for the visiting Cougars.
“I can’t even call them underclassmen anymore”, said Thomas of his younger players who he believes have played well beyond their years all season long.
The young players were aided by a solid third quarter from Kenny who continued to be a defensive force in the middle in addition to finding her stride on offense, hitting her first two field goals of the game during the third quarter.
“She is a beast in the middle,” noted Thomas on his senior center. “Without her, I don’t think we’d be where we are. She’s the glue, she holds us together.”
Mason flirted with a 20-point lead for much of the second half before allowing a small run by Manassas Park late in the game after Thomas lifted the full-court press, and took out some of his more dangerous players. The Mustangs eventually came away with a 44-30 victory, their 12th double-digit win of the season, 17th overall.
The win gave the Mustangs a perfect 8-0 record in the district for the regular season, landing them at the top of the Bull Run district, and giving them a guaranteed slot in the Region B Tournament.
Despite their prior experience at the level, the Mason seniors agreed that Thwomas, who is in his first season as varsity head coach, is the main reason for their accomplishments this year. “Coach T has done everything so well,” said Chehata on her first year head coach. “His coaching methods are so different from [coaches from] years past, but they’re working, and everything is falling into place.”
This postseason, Mason will look to match and improve upon last season’s result, which was a dazzling run that led them all the way to the A State Tournament at Virginia Commonwealth University. Kenny, who played a major role in the team’s success last year, noted that she is looking forward to possibly returning to VCU where she thinks the team can play well.