By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s girls varsity basketball team won the Virginia High School League state title last season, but Coach LaBryan Thomas said he has “bigger expectations” for the team this season.
The team graduated a few strong players last season, but will this be a transitional or rebuilding year for the team?
“No way,” said Coach LaBryan Thomas with a laugh.
“In our system we bring kids along slowly,” he said.
He gave sophomore forward Katie Goodwin, who earned playing time throughout last season and contributed to the team’s state title run, as an example of a player who has flourished in Mason’s basketball program. And there’s senior guard/forward Stephanie Cheney, the Bull Run District Player of the Year and a key component to the Mustangs’ title run last season, who can give opponents nightmares on the offensive end of the court.
“We’re not in a transitional year. We’re still strong,” Thomas said.
But the Mustangs did lose three seniors from last season who played big roles in the team’s success: guards Leah Roth and Krista Kelly and forward Lauren Kane. “It’s tough trying to fill those three spots,” Thomas said. He’s expecting players like junior guards Jaya Chavern and Julianna Rollo and sophomore point guard Ava Roth, Leah’s sister who rose as a viable replacement for Leah towards the end of last season, to step up to fill the void.
“People just have to step up and grow and that’s why we work on fundamentals,” Thomas said.
Fundamentals have been a major focus for Thomas and the Mustangs, who’ve added five players to replace the five who graduated last year. According to Thomas, fundamentals were “stressed” to the nine players returning to the roster from last year and the new players must be grounded in the basics of the game in order to compete on the same level as the veterans.
Another key player missing from this season’s roster is center Ashley Alexander, who decided not play this season, according to Thomas. He said Goodwin, who excelled while subbing for Alexander and Cheney last year, is “doing a good job” taking over the role Alexander played last year in terms of rebounding and scoring.
The team has had plenty of time to shore up new players and help veterans grow into their new roles, thanks to a change in the VHSL’s rules regarding practice time. Old rules stated that teams couldn’t hold practice once one season was over until the next one started. New rules state that teams can practice all year except for two 10-day periods in the off-season and seven days in July with any other restrictions being decided by each district or region individually. In George Mason’s Bull Run District, teams are allowed to practice twice a week during the off-season.
The Mustangs play their first home game of the season against Clarke County High School Friday.
“It’s always a battle when you play Clarke County,” Thomas said. “They’re very well coached. They have great athletes. I hope everybody comes out on Friday because it’s going to be a great game.”
The Mustangs opened their season with a game against Madison County High School Wednesday, but results were not available at press time.