Now, Mason plans to defend, but heading into this season, the squad knows that they can’t take anything for granted.
“We have to do what we did last year,” said point guard Chantal Thomas, a senior. “We have to work hard, we have to want it. We have to believe in ourselves first. This year, we’re lacking size. We don’t look like how we were last year. It takes time and it takes hard work to build up to where we were last year.”
The Mustangs look to be in pretty good shape heading into the new season, which starts with a scrimmage on Tuesday, Nov. 24 at McLean; and the regular season opens at home on Dec. 2 against Falls Church. The squad returns four starters off last year’s title-winning team.
“Last year’s team, I can honestly say, they were a family,” said Mason head coach LaBryan Thomas, who was an assistant and coached the junior varsity for seven years before taking the reigns of the varsity team last season. “They played together, they did everything together. That unity kept them close. Even when we had our highs and lows, they stayed together and it really showed in the way they played.”
One challenge the Mustangs will face is the loss of starting forward and team leader Kim Kenny, who graduated.
“We’re definitely missing a huge component – Kim Kenny,” said senior Nicole Mitchell. “We definitely can’t replace a Kim Kenny, but we can definitely learn from Kim Kenny, from her hustle, her confidence, and take from things she left behind and build off of that.”
Mason has learned early on that being defending state champs comes with added responsibility. During Fall games, the team realized that they were taking everyone’s best shot and were looked at in a light they never had experienced before.
“We have a huge target on our back,” said Mitchell. “We know in the districts, everyone is going to come hard. They’re going to bring it hard definitely.”
Coach Thomas says he’s going to emphasize defense this season as key to another title run.
“We have to get after it on defense,” he said. “It’s all out. We do a lot of pressure and just getting after folks. It encourages a lot of turnovers, and that’s easy baskets for us. We just put a lot of pressure, try to get a lot of steals. We can play the up tempo game or the slowdown games. Whatever occurs.”
Mitchell that the team already has a high level of togetherness after working in the offseason, in addition to the fact that 80 percent of the starting line up is back.
“We’re pretty cohesive right now because we’ve been working so hard in the offseason,” she said.
In addition to taking everyone’s best shot this season, the Mustangs will have to look out for perhaps their biggest obstacle – themselves. Battling against complacency and taking things for granted is something all defending champs have to deal with.
“You just got to want it,” said Chantal Thomas. “It’s just got to be there. Last year we were underdogs. Two years ago, we knew we could get to states and we knew we could compete with top opponents, but last year we felt a stronger connection among the team. We were all one family. We were all here for the same reason and we all wanted it. It’s all about want.”
Not that anyone should be confused about what Mason’s goals are this season. Getting back to – and winning – the state title is what they have in mind.
“We have to come to play every night,” said Coach Thomas. “As long as we stay focused and play hard.
“If they’re good students, and they play hard and have a good attitude and are having fun, whatever happens, happens,” the coach added.