As winter coats and mittens are pulled out of the back of the hall closet, George Mason High School sport fans congregate inside their seasonal chapel to watch a new slate of Mustang teams compete for glory.
But is glory within reach? Programs that got a taste of it last year are looking to scrap their way back onto that stage again. For others, who just missed out on a chance to play for some hardware, they return with a renewed vigor. And for some who are rebuilding after cyclical departures brought on by graduation, it’s all about planning for the future.
All of Mason’s teams fit any one of these descriptors, so without further ado, let’s jump into the preview
The Mustangs’ boys basketball team’s season last year ended like a horror movie – that is to say it was both bad and unceremonious. With 30 seconds to go in a tie game and the ball in Mason’s possession against Bull Run District rival Central High School, an untimely turnover set up the Falcons’ buzzer beater to end Mason’s season in the Region B semifinal. The loss was Mason’s third to Central that season and negated a Class 2 state tournament berth to boot. Yowch.
That wound may have cauterized from last February, but the Mustangs still have some adjusting to do given the new construction of their team. What Mason head coach Chris Capannola says is “maybe the smallest team I’ve had in my 18 years here,” controlling the paint and the boards will be a consistent challenge for the Mustangs throughout the next three months. One way Mason is managing that challenge is by using its swifter lineup is to institute a full-court defensive scheme (which was attempted for a short time last season as well).
The return of two veteran varsity starters in seniors Max Ashton and Hollman Smith make Mason a threat whenever they step on the court. But bringing newer players up to speed and negotiating with the reality that you can’t coach height will consistently rear its head this winter.
Mason opened their season on the road against Riverside High School Tuesday night, losing 68-49. They play their home opener this Friday against Broad Run High School.
Similar to its boys basketball counterpart, Mason’s girls basketball team also had its season end on a buzzer-beating three-pointer, the culprit being Buffalo Gap High School. But theirs came in the Class 2 state semifinals, making the season objectively more successful and the loss objectively more insufferable.
The Mustangs graduated four key starters from that state semifinal team and look to begin anew. That includes a mostly new roster as well as a new head man in Chris Carrico, last season’s assistant coach for the team after former head coach Michael Gilroy became an assistant for the boys team in the offseason.
Hammering out the defining elements of the team remains a work in progress, but Carrico is optimistic about what gains he’s made so far.
“The obvious obstacle facing our team will be our ability to establish a team identity and stay focused and composed throughout the season. Teams definitely won’t feel bad for us when we experience adversity and growing pains,” Carrico said. “The girls are still becoming comfortable with their new roles but have responded well to my coaching philosophy and messages.”
Senior Maddie Lacroix silently served as a part of the team’s spine in her first three years on varsity. Now she’s the only player on the roster who’s logged significant minutes, making her the straw that stirs the drink for the new young squad.
The Mustangs hosted Riverside High School for their season opener Tuesday night, losing 48-37. They play at Yorktown High School tonight.
Swim & Dive
Mason’s swim & dive program was the toast of the town last winter. The boys swept the postseason by winning the Bull Run District, Region B and Class 2 state championships while the girls also took first in the Bull Run but served as runner-up in both the region and state due to a lack of divers. Making personal gains while having both the girls and boys finish on top of the team competition by season’s end is the goal of second year coach Meghan Wallace.
“I am hoping to continue to improve upon times while making sure the kids are still having fun,” Wallace said. “It was a tough blow losing at regionals for the girls because we had no divers, but this year we are hopeful with having one girl diver.”
The Mustangs seem poised to do just that. A strong senior presence of 12 swimmers will lead a skilled bundle of 19 sophomores sets Mason up to vie for the crown(s) once again.
Dealing with Maggie Walker Governor’s School – Mason’s main rival at the regional and state level – will come to the fore in February, but throughout the season Wallace wants to make sure as many athletes can qualify for state competition as possible, which comes from experimentation in different events and intensified training.
“I want to continue to build endurance and technique in practices, which is definitely a challenge when we only have two hours in the pool a week. So, doing good dryland workouts the other days helps with this.” Wallace said.
The Mustangs will have their first meet this Saturday against Madison County High School and Stonewall Jackson High School.
Coming off one of its more memorable seasons in program history, Mason’s wrestling team looks to poised to compete for a Bull Run District title. For a program that has, at times, struggled to fill out its varsity team, winning a district title could be seen as an major turning point.
“It is my understanding Mason has not won a district wrestling title in the history of the school. And, this will be our last opportunity to do so at the class 2A level since we are moving to 3A next season,” Mason head coach Aaron Martinez said. “There is no question Mason has the depth of experience and personal commitment to excellence to achieve this end; not to mention the ability to fill all roster spots.”
There’s a strong possibility it could happen given the team’s makeup.
Seniors Bryan Villegas (113 lbs) and Jack Felgar (145 lbs) placed third and second at the Class 2 state tournament last year, respectively. Joining them are three other state qualifiers in West Haglar (145 lbs), Connor Murray (152 lbs) and Nick Zaenger (170 lbs). And that’s not including a young crop of new wrestlers produced from the Falls Church Force youth program in Emmett Wood, Daniel Martinez and Jackson Reitmeyer who look to buoy “soft” spots in this state lineup.
Mitigating injuries will continue to be the hardest part of the season. Felgar is recovering from an injury in the football season that will keep him out until at least January.
But should his timetable for recovery stay on track and the team progresses the way it expects to, it’ll be a dangerous foe to face come the postseason.
Mason will open its season at a tournament at King George High School this Saturday, Dec. 1.