Class may start for Falls Church City Public Schools students this Tuesday, but many students have already returned to school. These athletes are gearing up for another Fall sports season for the George Mason High School Mustangs.
The Mustang cross country team is coming off of a monumental season last year, in which the girls team took their third consecutive state title and the boys team won the regional championship for the first time in coach Julie Bravin’s 13-year tenure.
Bravin noted that in 2003, the boys finished second in the state but still didn’t win the region. The boys team followed up their regional win with a disheartening fifth place finish at states. The regional runner-up, Alta Vista, won the state title.
“They were fifth in the state and they were unhappy with that and they want higher. That also showed in their summer training,” said Bravin. “They came out ready to prove themselves.”
The Mustangs graduated three of last year’s top seven players including Jordan Robarge, the team’s top finisher at regionals and states.
The team returns juniors Jesse Schaffer (ninth in the region, 23rd at states) and Jeremy K. Brown (14th in the region, 21st at states). In addition, the team returns junior Jeremy M. Brown and senior Paul Henninger from last year’s regional champion team.Sophomore Paul Saunders rounds out the top five for the Mustangs.
The quintet finished within eight seconds of one another at the team’s summer time trial.
“Our challenge would be [that] we need seven guys together as close as possible,” said Bravin.
“We have some new people that look to break in there soon. They’re either new to cross-country, or freshmen,” adds Bravin.
On the girls side, six of last year’s top seven returned including junior Julia Estrada, who is the defending state runner-up. 2010 all-state selections Michele de Mars (sixth), Eva Estrada (seventh) and Emma Vieillescazes (14th), all seniors, return, in addition to junior Hannah Beaman and senior Abigail Perez.
“Now that we’ve won states, there’s not a thing that they don’t take for granted,” said Bravin. “They expect more of themselves and they don’t expect to win it again. You have to prove it.”
Led by Tom Horn, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, the football team field looks primed to rebound from a 1-9 season.
“The season before that we were 8-2,” said Horn who went on to explain, “The cycle of small schools is something we’re challenged by. We have a very good senior class one year and [not the next].”
As for this year’s incoming senior class, Horn added, “They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do in the weight room. They’re in good shape. They’re committed to this.”
Horn is currently planning on starting Stephen Lubnow at quarterback. The rising senior was an all-region defensive back in addition to playing running back on offense.
“If every school had 22 of him, there would be some unbelievable games,” said Horn. “He’s strong enough that he can play anywhere on the field [and] he’s got all the tools of a high school player.”
Horn also has high hopes for senior Nico Deo Campo, a running back and defensive back whose season was cut short by injury.
“I think he’s excited about an expanded role in the offense this year, injury free and ready to be a featured player,” said Horn.
Beyond that, Horn is hesitant to speculate on who will play a key role this early in the season. During the two preseason scrimmages against Avalon and Sidwell Friends, however, Horn said the team was playing well and making good progress towards learning their assignments.
The team opens its season Thursday against JEB Stuart High School. Other non-district games include Warren County and Purchase Line High School in Pennsylvania. The Oct. 15 game against Purchase Line was scheduled last-minute after district opponent Rappahannock High School cancelled their football season due to lack of attendance. Like most coaches in the single A division of VHSL, Horn can relate to the difficulties of recruiting enough people to field a team.
“There [were] 17 kids in my first practice my first year. That’s scary. As the numbers remain somewhat consistent, that fear goes away,” said Horn. “Not that it’s a yearly battle to do it, it’s just a yearly task to make sure you are doing it”
The Mason team has roughly 30 players on the roster this year.
Erik Healey has taken over the reigns as volleyball coach after serving as the assistant for the varsity team under Liz Rizzi last year. That squad went 8-12 and finished fifth in both the district tournament and the district standings.
A fifth-year math teacher at the school, Healey played high school volleyball, and played at the intramural and club level in college. Healey’s assistant coach, Mark Sokolowski, is also a new addition to the team.
In contrast, the volleyball team returns everyone from last year’s starting line-up with the exception of top player Katie Breen who was named first team all-district last year.
“She [left] a big void,” said Healey of the departing senior. “But we’re really hoping we have people who step up and fill that role.”
Returning to the team is junior Maddie Johnson who was named second team all-district last year. Johnson is a captain of the team in addition to seniors Natalie Farrell and Rachel Bell.
The team started tryouts on Aug. 8 and started practice on Aug. 11. Three underclassmen were selected on the 13-member varsity squad: sophomores Sally Karstens, Dana Sembera and freshman Casey Sheey.
Healey acknowledges that recruiting to volleyball has an inherent difficulty since kids don’t play competitively before trying out for the team. To remedy this, Healey and JV coach Leyton McCann held a camp to recruit middle schoolers and allow them the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the sport.
“We really talk about how volleyball is different from a lot of sports kids play for a long time,” said Healey on his recruiting strategy. “The skills of volleyball are quick and more fast-paced than people give them credit for.”
The squad opens its season against JEB Stuart High School at the Raider Rumble Tournament.
While most teams are preparing for their respective seasons, the golf team has already played seven of their nine regular-season matches.
The golf team, coached by William Snyder, had its first district victory this past week against Manassas Park on its home course. The Mustangs outshot their opponents 190-210.
Regardless of the team’s win-loss record, Snyder is pleased with the team’s improvement.
“Every player’s improved by approximately five strokes each,” said Snyder. “Everyone’s playing much more confidently and shooting better.”
Due to the unavailability of local golf space, the team practices at Reston National Golf Course.
“Every practice we have to travel half hour and half an hour back and we’re on the course for three hours so they do sacrifice quite a bit of time,” said Snyder.
Senior Ben Tourkin is the team’s top golfer and senior Will Powell, senior Drew Nickle, senior Genevive Jordan, junior Ethan Anderson, and sophomore Wes Coupard round out the top six.
The team plays in Woodstock, Virginia on the first day of school and plays Strasburg on Sept. 20. The District Tournament is on Sept. 27 in Madison County.
Beth Bird’s program has come a long way since she became the cheerleading coach three years ago and just one girl showed up on the first day of tryouts.
“We’ve been rebuilding for the past few years,” says Bird.
Last year was the first year in which the squad competed at the district championships, placing fourth. This year, she is adding four additional competitions to the calendar.
“It’s more of an effort to try to get the routine together in a shorter amount of time,” says Bird on how that changes the way she runs practice.
The group of 23 girls coached by Bird is comprised of a sideline squad which routes in games as well as a competition team with many of the cheerleaders serving on both squads.
Since practice began on the first of August, the team has been practicing four days a week with two practices a day.
Bird, who is also the school registrar, has set out goals for her squads. She hopes to see improvement in the district standings for the competition squad. For the sideline squad, she hopes to maintain the standard of excellence which she says, “really shocked some people [last year] with how much they improved.”
“For other teams, it’s basic, but for us because we’re so new, it’s our primary goal,” said Bird.
Bird is aided by senior co-captains Savannah Ruiz and Katie Devereaux.