Mason Enters New Territory in Region Final, State Tourney

SENIOR OUTSIDE HITTER Riley Ruyak helped Mason overcome their bad recent history in regional home openers with a 3-1 victory over Robert E. Lee High School. (Photo: Carol Sly)

It’s been a historic start to the postseason for George Mason High School’s volleyball team as it dethroned an old demon and made its first ever Class 2 state title berth.

Thanks to winning their Region B home opener against Robert E. Lee High School, 3-1, on Nov. 1 and thwarting the then-undefeated Wilson Memorial High School, 3-1, on the road Tuesday night, the Mustangs (16-6) have fought their way into the Region B final and their first ever trip to the Class 2 state tournament starting this Saturday. That first win over Lee proved seminal though, as the past three years in a row Mason was stumped in home regional openers and saw strong seasons go for naught in the playoffs. Not so in 2018.

“It felt really, really good,” senior setter Evelyn Duross said, who along with fellow seniors McKenzie Brady and Shea Ruyak, were a part of those losing teams. “If we really put our mind to it, we can beat all these teams. With volleyball, it’s mindset, so if you work as hard as you can and think that you can do it, then you can.”

There was a definite scare early into the match against Lee. Sophomore libero Caroline Poley’s ace put Mason up 16-15, but three straight kills for the Leemen, including a bang-bang call where officials determined an attempted kill by the Mustangs was saved by Lee, had Mason on the ropes. The Leemen secured the first set 25-21 and the “Here we go again” feeling was palpable in the gym.

That was until Duross flipped the script with her own stellar play. The senior scored four aces in a 5-0 run to start the second set and had the Mustangs humming from the jump. Lee closed the gap to 11-7, but another Duross service run netted her three aces to go with kills from Brady and sophomore outside hitter Megan Boesen to put Mason in firm control at 19-7. Sophomores Roza Gal and Olivia Pilson would help close the set 25-15 for the Mustangs.

Riding high off the momentum, Mason got out to fast starts in the third and fourth sets to clinch the match. Duross and Brady’s service runs in the third gave Mason a 9-2 lead, and the whole lineup helped quash Lee’s morale with a convincing 25-14 set win. Duross’ serves again gave the Mustangs a jolt in the fourth set, but it was a six-point run steered by sophomore middle hitter Vanessa George and Boesen to go up 15-5 that put the Leemen out of commission. Mason would clinch the match with a 25-15 fourth set win, though the mental hurdle was downplayed in practice leading up to the contest.

“I was aware of it, but I don’t to focus on that because then you overstress yourself,” first-year Mason head coach Derek Baxter said. “When the girls would talk about it, I said, ‘Great, that’s true, but let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus on what’s next in front of us which is our next pass, next set, next hit.’”

The fun didn’t stop there for Mason, who went on to upset Wilson Memorial on the road Tuesday night. The Mustangs took the first set 25-10 before squeaking out the second set 25-23. The Hornets took the third set 25-12 before Mason responded to win the fourth set and clinch the match.

Mason played Madison County High School for the Region B crown tonight, but results weren’t available by press time. The team’s match in the Class 2 State quarterfinals is set for this Saturday, Nov. 10.