The spring sports season at George Mason High School has already gotten underway for some of the Mustang squads. Some of the teams are seeking a chance to defend their state championship titles, some teams are attempting to build on the success of last season and one team has already found victory in a dramatic turnaround from recent seasons.
The boys soccer team is headed into this season as the two-time defending state champions. Head coach Frank Spinello, who was named National High School Boys Soccer Coach of the Year for 2014 in December, said one of the keys to his team three-peating as state champs is focus.
“We need to stay focused and play every game like it’s the most important game on the schedule,” Spinello said. The Mustangs lost a small senior class – Paul Darmstadter, Sinan Kokuuslu, Brian Connelly and Owen Puller – all of whom played a key role in the team’s state championship season last year.
But the biggest loss for the team, perhaps, is the absence of junior Raheem Lawal, who is playing for D.C. United Academy Team this season. “That’ll hurt on the attacking end,” Spinello said. “But we’re returning our entire midfield, except for Sinan, so that’ll help.”
According to Spinello, a duo of forwards who played sparse, but impactful minutes for the Mustangs last season – sophomore Olo Sembera and junior Donal Reyes de Leon – and a player who sat out because of an injury last season, midfielder/forward junior Matheus de Carvalho, will fill in the gap left by the absence of Lawal, the team’s leading goal scorer in 2013.
They’ll alternate playing opposite junior forward Elliot Mercado, who led the team in scoring with a school record-breaking 40 goals in 2014.
The Mustangs will also have a group of nine seniors, anchored by defender Ned Quill and goalkeeper Daniel Donovan, to help attempt to lead the Mustangs to another state championship.
Girls soccer head coach Jennifer Parsons said if her seven -time state championship-winning team get the chance to play for an state record-extending eighth title, they can’t take their ability to win, or lose, for granted.
“Hopefully we’ll have the chance to defend our titles, but we have to make sure we’re prepared when we get there,” Parsons said. “And don’t think that we can just show up.”
The Mustangs have already played two scrimmages against teams who play in higher divisions than them, Kettle Run High School and Marshall High School, to help them prepare for the possibility of facing tougher competition this season, like they did when they faced Maggie Walker Governor’s School who were the only team to score on the Mustangs during the 2014 postseason.
“I think now that Maggie Walker isn’t an unknown to us – we’ve played them, we’ve seen them a couple times – I think that’s helpful,” Parsons said. “As opposed to last season, they were just a name, we knew nothing about them. I think the girls having had the experience against them twice last year is good.”
The girls soccer team, like the boys’ team, only lost four senior players from their roster last season. But one of those players was Claire Trevisan, a former Virginia state player of the year.
“I think that Claire left such a legacy on the program and such a positive influence that the girls want to step into her shoes and take on that role of being a dominant player,” Parsons said. “But with that said we’ve got five or six players back that were on the all-region team and all-state team and seven or eight that were on the Bull Run team, so we definitely still have a ton of depth.”
Adam Amerine, head coach of the the Mustangs baseball team, said that his team has been motivated, since losing in the Conference 35 tournament opener to Madison County High School, to make more out of their talent this season.
The team won 14 of their first 18 games before losing two of their last three and blowing a four run lead to Madison County in the conference tournament.
“When we had our player meetings last week, two or three of the seniors definitely said that the way it ended against Madison County left a bad taste in their mouth,” Amerine said. “Especially Evan Davis. He was the pitcher on the mound that day, he really wants another chance to get a little revenge or to step further into the playoffs.”
Mason is returning several starters from last year’s roster – including Davis, who is going to pitch for Eastern Mennonite University after graduating and Chris Meador, a shortstop who is going to play for Lynchburg University after graduating. Amerine listed those two, as well senior Sam Selby, junior Marsden Davis and sophomore Zach Lang, as players he expects to contribute to the Mustangs’ offensive output.
“We’re returning eight starters. We have a lot of kids who have varsity experience. Lot of at bats,” Amerine said. “So I expect our runs per game to increase, hopefully.”
Mason softball coach Brian Fowler wants to keep his players focused on being a team rather than a group of individuals, so much so that he has refused to name who he thinks will be key players going into this season. The team has become more competitive in the last two years, according to Fowler, than they were in years previous to that.
“We have a group of girls that are determined to pick up where they left off,” Fowler said. “What I think was key last year was that we actually learned to compete as a program. For so many years it wasn’t that way. Softball just something where everybody came out just to have a good time.
“But I believe the girls learned last year how to compete and I’m hoping that we can pick that up and carry it on to this year.”
The Mustangs lost a couple of players to relocation and a couple to graduation, but retained junior pitcher-catcher duo Julia Ferris and Anne Ferguson, who were key players for the team last season. Also, Fowler said that a group of juniors, who have played together since they were eighth graders, joined the varsity squad this year and are looking to win.
“As long as we can keep them serious, it’ll work to our benefit,” Fowler said. “If they start to lose focus a little bit, we could teeter the other way. So as long as we as coaches do a good job of keeping them focused I think we’ll be competitive again.”
The boys tennis team competed in the singles, doubles and team state championship last season, but came home empty handed for the first time in five years. Also, the team lost their top two players, Jacob Morris and Nate Jones, who played together as the Mustangs’ top doubles team, to graduation.
Still, head coach Matt Sowers, who said that he hasn’t coached a team that didn’t get to the state championship in the seven years he’s been coaching the team, is expecting his team to perform well this season.
“Our expectation is the same pretty much every year,” Sowers said. “You’re typically given anywhere from 14 to 18 games in the regular season. Our goal every year is to get double-digit wins in the regular season and get to the postseason and get as deep as we can get. I don’t think that ever changes.”
What has changed, Sowers said, is the amount of starters the team has from last season’s roster – four out of the top six players graduated. Sowers said that he expects players like senior Dmitry Tislin, junior Thomas Beddow and sophomore Thomas Morris, Jacob’s younger brother, to step to fill those vacated starting slots.
The girls tennis team is returning its top two players – Kynadi and Carrington Mauney – from last season. The duo won the state title in doubles competition and Kynadi got to the state final in singles before losing to Gate City High School senior Rosa Smith 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.
Stephanie Ferreira, assistant coach of the girls tennis team, said that the biggest challenges for the team will be replacing the Mauney’s regular season doubles partners. In the postseason the Mauneys play as a team, but played with different doubles partners last regular season in order to help the team score more points in team play.
“A lot of these girls haven’t played together as doubles partners, so it’s going to be a lot of trial and error,” Ferreira said. “So hopefully we find the best match for each player.”
Ferreira said the it seems like her players have been practicing over the offseason and that some of the players who weren’t in the top six in singles competition last season have “not just matured in practice, but matured in their game, too.”
Ferreira said that she expects players like senior Emily Klein and sophomores Rachel Baek and Ruth Miller to step up and fill the void left by the departure of five seniors.
Boys and Girls Track
Former assistant coach Jeff Buck has taken over as the head coach of the Mason track program after Alisa Harvey stepped down to spend more time with her daughter. Harvey led the Mustangs to a banner year, with first and second place finishes at the Conference 35 meet last year for the girls and boys, respectively, and state meet contenders.
Buck said that the girls team is returning most of its strongest competitors, including Tara Holman, who was the Virginia High School League champion in the 100-meter dash last season. The real task for Buck is going to be replacing a talented senior class on the boys track and field team.
“For the guys side, we did lose a lot because we had a lot of strong seniors, Truman Custer, Preston Custer, John Marshall, they were some strong runners for us,” Buck said. “But we do have some guys in the sprints that could do a really good job, like D’Montae Noble. He’s really quick and is really enthusiastic this year about the sport.”
Buck also mentioned James Schneider and Andrew Connelly as upperclassmen who could help the boys team score points in meets throughout the season.
Girls lacrosse head coach Courtney Gibbons said that her team has been working on their game throughout the offseason, practicing twice a week, in order to build on their 11-4 regular season record from 2014. It was the team’s first winning season since 2010.
“We’re excited….We’ve been really working on our stick skills and our speed and agility,” Gibbons said. “But we’re also a year older. We lost three, but we’ve got a really good group of freshmen and sophomores coming up. Everyone’s just got more confidence to them from last year.”
Gibbons said that Maeve Curtin and Samantha Rolander, two players who graduated from Mason last year, were key players for the team.
But she said that players like seniors Hayley Zullo and Eleanor Langford, sophomores Sarah Lubnow and Lydia Gorman and freshmen Amy Roche and Annette Schlitt will step up to buttress the team and fill the leadership void left by Rolander and Curtin.
Schlitt, Gibbons said, will fill the void left by the third senior that graduated from last year’s roster, Natanim Teshome, in goal.
According to Gibbons, Schlitt has a plenty of experience playing goalkeeper on travel lacrosse teams.
The boys lacrosse team, only a two years removed from not being able to field a varsity team and only a year removed from a three-win season, won their first game of the season on Tuesday night, a 16-2 drubbing of Rock Ridge High School. The Mustangs are now coached by Marc Mesmer, a former head coach at Broad Run High School and former player at Christopher Newport University.
“I think the evidence of last night’s game out there on the field is that we put a stronger team together,” said assistant coach Will Stewart. Stewart has been with the program since that 2013 season where they managed to only cobble enough players together to field a junior varsity team.
“I think the team got better over the course of last season and gelled. And I think a lot of the offseason work that the players put in – practicing on their own and with their offseason teams – that also shows.”
Another piece of evidence that the Mustangs boys lacrosse program is perhaps turning around is the ability of the team to field both a junior varsity and varsity team this year. Mesmer said that he thinks the program has shows promise for the future.
“We have a lot of talent. Our core nucleus is pretty good…. I envision the team getting a lot stronger in terms of lacrosse IQ,” Mesmer said. “Overall team development is going to be a catalyst for this year and upcoming years as well. But we have a lot of opportunity this year to be very good. I think that there’s a group here that’s very excited.”