Mustangs Fall in State Quarterfinal

MASON WILL SORELY MISS its strong senior class of McKenzie Brady, Evelyn Duross and Riley and Shea Ruyak. But head coach Derek Baxter is confident that the experience of a deep playoff run will help the growth of its sophomore-laden varsity team come next season. (Photo: Carol Sly)

A landmark season for George Mason High School’s volleyball team came to end Saturday night when the Mustangs fell 3-1 to Poquoson High School in the Class 2 State quarterfinals.

Never before had Mason (16-8) made it to Virginia’s Class 2 state tournament, let alone past the opening round of the regional tournament. But this year proved different, and it did so with the deck (seemingly) stacked against them. A new head coach took over a program with only four returning seniors and an abundance of players making their first starts at the varsity level. All that, plus the baggage of fruitful regular seasons and underwhelming postseasons, affected what most might’ve labeled as the team’s low ceiling — except the team itself.

“It was a great experience,” Mason head coach Derek Baxter said. “We played some of our best volleyball in the last month, and now we’ve given our team of mostly sophomores some good lessons to learn as they continue to grow as players within the program.”

Saturday’s state quarterfinal at Poquoson near Hampton Roads showed that the Mustangs had the chops to compete, but not the endurance to consistently elevate their game against the state’s best. Trailing 25-24 in the first set, senior outside hitter McKenzie Brady spiked a floating volley from the Bull Islanders to knot the game up. Sophomore middle hitter Roza Gal would smack a kill down during the rally after, but the hosts tallied three straight points to steal the first set back.

The Mustangs started hot in the second set. They held a slim 7-6 lead, but were soon on the wrong end of a 11-8 deficit. The three-point gap maintained while Mason lagged behind at 13-10 and 15-12 until the Mustangs scored six of the next seven points to go up 18-16. Sophomore libero Caroline Poley’s ace later on put Mason up 23-17 and the Mustangs eventually tied the match up at one set apiece.

Poquoson’s savvy was on display during the final two sets. Mason was down 13-9 early, but fought back to come within two at 16-14. From there the home team began to separate and built up a 21-15 lead. A strong service run by senior outside hitter Riley Ruyak staved off defeat to put the Mustangs down four at 24-20, but the Bull Islanders finished off the set.

Some of the wrinkles Poquoson had in its game, especially in its serving, began to take hold in the fourth set. It’s why a surmountable 12-8 Bull Islander lead early on snowballed into a 18-11 advantage for the home team soon after. Poquoson built the margin to 23-14 and was able to win the final set handily.

The loss concluded a whirlwind of a final week to the Mustangs’ season.

One night after spoiling top-seeded Wilson Memorial High School’s undefeated season, Mason traveled to face a familiar foe in Bull Run District rival Madison County High School on Nov. 7. The previous three matches between these two teams were decided in straight sets, including the match to decide the Bull Run champion eight days earlier.

Present trends continued last Wednesday. The Mountaineers won in straight sets over the Mustangs – 25-14, 25-16 and 25-23 – to take the Region B crown. Baxter mentioned that Madison County is a tough out in their own gym, but still felt that Mason competed better than the scoreboard indicated by the match’s end.