Prior to the start of the 2010-2011 season, George Mason High School girls basketball coach LaBryan Thomas discussed who he expected to lead the two-time defending Virginia State Group A champions. With stars such as Chantal Thomas and Nicole Mitchell gone to graduation, coach Thomas looked to a number of candidates to set the pace for the Mustangs.
So far, Stephanie Cheney has answered the call.
Through six games, the six-foot forward leads Mason in scoring and rebounding, averaging more than 20 points and 9 rebounds a game. The Mustangs are currently 5-2.
“She’s one of the retuning starters from last year,” Thomas said. “The team last year was senior oriented. She played a role, but she took it upon herself to step things up.”
Losing key players from back-to-back title-winning games, Cheney realized that pressure would be on this season for the Mustangs to prove themselves.
“From last year we definitely lost two key players,” the sophomore Cheney said before a practice this week. “I was a little apprehensive. We’re coming off two state championships. There’s a lot to show for us. We didn’t want to show that they were our only team members.”
Cheney said that she worked on her game during the offseason, but is quick to add that her success early in the season is a credit to her teammates.
“We’ve come out extremely strong so far,” she said. “All my points come from my teammates. I have to give 100 percent props to them. It’s not really me, it’s my team.”
Mason opened the season with two wins at the beginning of the month, was tripped up against Liberty High, then won three in a row before falling to Sidwell Friends Tuesday.
“I’m pleased,” Thomas said. “With this young nucleus, I wasn’t for sure how things were going to go. They’ve shone their maturity, and it feels good.”
Thomas says the scoring is down from last year, but the defense has improved, giving the Mustangs a different character from their two recent championship teams.
“Last year we scored,” he said. “We outscored people. This year, we’re more of a defensive team. A lot of defensive pressure.”
In addition to Cheney, the Mustangs have seen nice efforts from freshman center Ashley Alexander (7.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and junior guard Leah Roth (5.3 assists per game, 4.1 steals per game). Thomas sees a rotation developing, and likes the depth the team has shown.
“Some of the young kids [have] really stepped up,” he said. “I’ve made our rotation, I’ve made our bench a little deeper than I thought it was going to be.”
On Wednesday the Mustangs welcome much larger neighbor Marshall. On Saturday, the team heads to Georgetown Visitation. Next week the team welcomes Manassas Park on Tuesday.
Thomas knows his Mustangs have their worked cut out for them this week, “If we come out of this week 2-1, I’ll be a happy man,” he said.