A year after an epic postseason run to reclaim the Class 2 state title, George Mason High School’s boys soccer team was the final boss in a new champion’s journey as they fell 2-0 to Robert E. Lee High School in the state championship.
Mason (21-2-1) and Lee have been dueling in the playoffs for the past three seasons, so it’s only appropriate that the final game both programs shared would be on the state’s biggest stage.
Lee upset Mason in the region quarterfinals in 2017 and defeated the Mustangs again in the region championship in 2018. The Mustangs returned the favor by defeating the Leemen in state semifinals that same season en route to their sixth championship in nine years. After Mason’s 1-0 win over Lee 13 days ago in the region championship, the Staunton natives countered with a state championship win of their own — the first boys soccer title in school history. It wasn’t the result the Mustangs wanted, but they aren’t letting a loss to a quality team jade their view of the season.
“I could not be more proud of this team, win or lose,” head coach Frank Spinello said. “I do not want all of the hard work, dedication and sacrifice our team made during the season diminished at all by being State Runner-Up. For any other program that would be an amazing season, and it was for us.”
A loosening of the Mason midfield set up Lee’s eventual victory in the championship match.
In the region final, the Mustangs hawked the midfield and forced the Leemen to be overly methodical in their ball movement. Last Saturday in the state final, Mason granted Lee a larger cushion to work with, and paid the price. The Leemen were able to generate momentum through the middle of the field rather quickly and had the Mustangs playing catch up to Lee’s attack as a result.
The game’s unfavorable flow culminated in a Lee goal in the 35th minute. A sharp shot heading toward the near post was going to be met by senior goalkeeper Ishan Bhalla. But along the way the ball’s line changed and Bhalla lost track of it due to a screen. It allowed the ball to find the back post and sneak in for Lee’s go-ahead goal.
A more aggressive Mason in the second half allowed the team to put some pressure on Lee, but a reluctance to play balls along the wings and into space, combined with some hesitancy to shoot and a stout Leemen back line, nerfed the Mustangs’ advances. A late penalty kick from Lee sealed the game’s result.
Against Martinsville High School last Friday, Mason was more like its usual self. Junior forward Zorhan Boston rifled a pass from senior forward Nick Wells’ past Martinsville’s goalkeeper in the 25th minute for its go-ahead goal. Strong play from the Mustangs’ back line of seniors Miles Lankford and Bryan Villegas as well as sophomore Hans Abruzzi kept the Bulldogs in check, with freshman forward Yasin Shams’ goal from sophomore midfielder Jack Brown’s assist in the 78th minute clinching the game for good.
Even with the elevated competition next year, Mason isn’t altering its expectations.
“We play hard, work hard, play fair and respect the game. That is all a coach can ask for,” Spinello added. “In Class 3 I expect us to maintain those same standards that we have set. I just want us to be the best Mason team we can be every year, and look forward to new challenges.”