With another fall sports season seeing multiple teams reach the regional and state level of competition now in the books, George Mason High School teams and fans shift their attention to the upcoming winter season.
A quick glance at this year’s slew of teams reveals a mix of specific expectations but a shared sense of positive vibes and talent to make each program interesting. Both girls and boys basketball intend to further their reputation throughout the state, wrestling welcomes a new coach who’s forging a new culture and swim & dive looks to continue its rich heritage at Mason.
The 2016-17 season was a surprise to George Mason High School boys basketball team head coach Chris Capannola, who after leading a team to the 2A state semifinals the year before, was expecting the natural dip that came with graduating the senior-heavy roster. But sophomore scoring duo of guard Max Ashton and forward Hollman Smith took to their new roles on varsity without missing a beat and elevated the team to a 16-9 record and regional tournament berth.
Now as juniors, Cappanola knows the two, along with senior guard Anish Chatterjee, will continue to pack a punch on the offensive side of the ball despite some new inflections to the scheme. Back on defense, the team is transitioning to an aggressive philosophy in order to dictate the action on both ends of the floor.
“Adjusting to a new offense will take time, but the defensive philosophy is a 180 from last year. We are going back to pressure and trapping and pushing the pace. No more sitting back and slowing things down,” Capannola said. “Practices have been fast paced and energetic, we have a great group of kids who like and respect each other, they continually push and encourage their teammates. That is invaluable to have any chance of success.”
Add in that the Mustangs can run 10 to 11 deep – another change from last year – and they’re in good shape to hang with all the best teams in the Bull Run district and potentially the region. But the latter remains to be seen in a stacked field. Right now Mason’s at the beginning of this journey and will get a better idea as the season unfolds.
The Mustangs next game is against Chantilly High School and is hosted at J.E.B. Stuart (Justice) High School on Nov. 30.
A quarterfinal berth in last year’s 2A state tournament was right where George Mason High School’s girls basketball team’s head Michael Gilroy was shooting for when the season ended 22-6 in March. But that was then. This year a new, more challenging path awaits the Mustangs with a combination of out of conference opponents and constantly improving region and state within the 2A classification.
With eight returners, including seven seniors who’ve been with Gilroy since he started out in 2015, is an obvious plus for Mason’s aspirations for a second trip to the state tournament. However, Gilroy wants the team to look at its unity as its greatest strength, instead opting for a few standout players to serve as the crew’s engine.
“I am expecting everyone to be a leader, I don’t want one or two captains, this year it is everyone’s job to speak up and lead,” Gilroy said. “I don’t want any of my players to be satisfied with their skill level and bball IQ, I want to come to the gym everyday with the mindset that we can always be better than we were the day before, individually and as a team.”
Playing as that true team will give this group an edge that could push them to an unprecedented level. In season’s past the Mustangs have been able to find a surreal synergy and leave opposing teams searching for answers in the process. Though a consistency to that chemistry has eluded Mason and left room for improvement. This year is about finding that consistency.
Mason will travel to National Cathedral School on Nov. 28 for their next contest.
Swim & Dive
Returning to the pool for another winter full of promise is George Mason High School’s Swim & Dive team, which also witnesses a new head coach take the reigns with Meghan Wallace’s arrival.
Wallace has a different philosophy from the team’s previous coaches and looks to work that into the practice regimen, while cleaning up some of the team’s technical elements such as flip turns and dives. However, she knows she has a base group of talent to work with as Mason finds itself at the tops of the 2A region and state competition year-in and year-out.
Most of all for Wallace and the team is pushing themselves outside their comfort zone and not getting stuck in any sort of specialized event, allowing the unit to be more flexible when in competition.
“I am hoping all swimmers will improve not only in times but technique and the ability to swim more than just one stroke or their favorite stroke,” Wallace said. “Making sure kids are accountable for coming to practice and meets even if they aren’t swimming. I am hoping many will make it to states and that we will have a winning season, but that will just be a plus if that happens.”
Mason dives into their season on Dec. 2 at Manassas Park Community Center against multiple opponents.
A new year brings with it a new sense of optimism for George Mason High School’s wrestling team, which welcomes in Aaron Martinez for his first season heading the program. Though new, Martinez already has a vision for what he wants the team to be.
That includes covering the most of the weight classes, and also encouraging individual studs in juniors Jack Felgar and Bryan Villegrass to shoot for 2A state championships that are well within their reach. It’s setting the stage for a season where Mason may finally be able to show themselves as a collective unit, rather than a small program with occasional standouts.
“We are working hard to assist our wrestlers in mastering [their] techniques by setting up a well thought out program,” Martinez said. “In addition, we are striving for a very disciplined practice room to ensure a positive learning environment where the kids can focus on the task at hand without unnecessary distractions. Our room is being run similar to most martial arts programs – not a lot of voices at any given time, just a lot of hard work”
The Mustangs will start their season on the road against King George High School in a dual match on Dec. 2.