By Liz Lizama
Most of George Mason High School’s winter sports teams will kick off their seasons next week. While most teams had their share of successes last year, some squads will juggle the losses of last year’s graduating seniors.
Nonetheless, the athletes are hard at work to develop their skill and team strategies to be competitive in the Virginia High School League this season.
While last year saw a young lineup ending the season with an 11-12 record, the varsity boys basketball team only lost two seniors and retained the players who contributed most to their offensive production last season.
Making great strides last year, the players “gained critical experience for the upcoming couple of years,” said head coach Chris Capannola.
“We were within one or two possessions of the lead in just about every game we lost and gave league champion William Monroe their only Bull Run District loss of the season.”
As sophomores, guards Joshua Allen and Elliot Mercado and forward Robert Tartt were among the varsity team’s top scorers last season and all three will return again for their junior year.
With an experienced roster of returning players, the Mustangs hope to continue to build on what they accomplished last year. And practices already appear to demonstrate the team is headed on the right track, according to Capannola.
“Practices have been very intense and competitive because we literally have a roster full of kids who can get minutes,” Capannola said.
“It’s a great dilemma to have as a coach, because everybody is hungry.”
As with all the previous teams he has coached, a team-first attitude is what Capannola describes as most critical to succeed though. “Without it, the talent means nothing,” he said.
He is aiming to get his players to the point where they don’t care which Mustang scores, he said. “If we can get there with this group, the sky is the limit for them,” Capannola said.
The Mustangs open up the season next Tuesday, Dec. 2, at rival Clarke County High School.
While the Mustangs fell short of last year’s state championships by losing in the regional tournament, the team had an overall record of 20-3.
Though the group hoped to repeat its 2012 state championship win, last year’s exit was the earliest under the leadership of head coach LaBryan Thomas, who is entering his last year as coach. Thomas has coached the varsity team since the 2008-09 season.
The team also graduated five seniors, three of whom were starters. Although Thomas described it as a significant loss to the program, he is confident in the four experienced seniors leading this year’s team: forwards Micaela Albright and Katie Goodwin, guard Gen Schmitt and Haley Zullo. “I believe they are really going to do good things this year,” Thomas said.
Aside from the seniors, the group is young with four sophomores who played junior varsity last year joining the team.
“I think they are going to help out a great deal because they are very talented,” Thomas said. “We’ll be an up-tempo team and we’ll press a lot because we’re not very tall, but we’re very fast and very quick.”
With strong leadership and young talent, Thomas looks forward to his last season as head coach. “We try to work hard in practice and have fun in games, and that’s what it’s all about for us this year,” he said.
The Mustangs are kicking off their season next Wednesday, Dec. 3, against Clarke County High School at home.
Swim and Dive
As a result of the realignment of the Virginia High School League, which went into effect for the 2013-2014 season, the Mason swim and dive team competed in the 2A division last year.
Both teams had a successful first year in the division as the boys team won the 2A state championships and the girls team placed second in the state, falling behind Maggie Walker Governor’s School.
Now in its second year in the 2A division, the team welcomes new coach Jack Cashin, who hopes to repeat last year’s success despite the loss of three swimmers on the boys team.
The boys, however, are still positioned to do well, especially with veterans junior Miller Surette and senior Jared Britton returning for another season. Last year, Surette set a new team record in the 200-yard individual medley and Britton did the same in the 50-yard freestyle. Britton also took home the gold medal in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay at the state championship meet.
On the other hand, “The girls team looks very reloaded,” he said. “We didn’t lose any seniors or high-point scorers – most were sophomores and juniors,” Cashin said. “Senior Beth Cashin has been the girls team swimmer of the year for the past couple of seasons and is well-placed to succeed again this year,” he said.
Last year, she set new school records in both the 50-yeard freestyle and 100-yeard breaststroke.
Junior Erin McFall also returns this season after a successful appearance in last year’s regional tournament where she was recognized as the most outstanding swimmer of the day.
While the team is focused on regionals, districts and states, Cashin realizes that only a small percentage will qualify for states individually, so he wants to also focus on developing the younger talent. “We will focus on where we can get better, where we can best put our swimmers, so we not only have individual success but team success as well,” he said.
The Mustangs’ first meet is next Saturday, Dec. 6, against Central High School at Manassas Park Community Center.
After a successful run at the state tournament last year with three of its six senior wrestlers placing in the top eight, the Mustangs will enter the upcoming season with a fairly inexperienced group and no seniors.
The team has five varsity wrestlers with some experience – two juniors and three sophomores. The rest of the team is comprised of first-year wrestlers.
Junior Hunter Sulc, who missed last season due to a football injury, is among the most experienced of the team. He will return to the Mustangs in the 182-pound weight class. As a freshman, he placed sixth in the state.
“We had a lot of hope for him last year, but he was injured,” said head coach Bryan Harris. “He’s coming back with a lot of excitement and is eager to make up the lost time from last season.”
And while the young team may present its challenges, the fresh talent only motivates Harris. “We have a lot of new kids this year – a lot from football coming,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, but to have the new faces and new life to the team has been exciting.”
Harris said while the district matches are always tough, the team is focused on working hard from start to finish this season.
The Mustangs start this season next Tuesday, Dec. 2, at The Potomac School and then wrestle in their first district match on Wednesday, Dec. 17, at Strasburg High School.