By Drew Costley
Winning state, regional, or district championships is one way that a high school basketball program can show its strength and success. George Mason High School’s girls basketball program has proved itself in this manner, having won multiple championships in all three levels of competition over the past six years.
But another sign that a high school basketball program is flourishing can be found in how many alumna of the program step up to play at the college level. George Mason High School’s girls basketball program is beginning to show success in this way as well, with three recent graduates of the program playing on college teams that made the NCAA championship tournament this season.
“The kids work hard and that’s half the battle. You get kids that work hard and they’re going to be successful,” said LaBryan Thomas, head coach of the girls varsity basketball team.
“We try to make a diligent effort teaching basic fundamentals,” Thomas said. “And talking to college coaches – especially for the three who have made it to the collegiate level – they were pleased at how well they were coached and their fundamentals.”
Nicole Mitchell and Chantal Thomas, George Mason Class of 2010, are both seniors at Christopher Newport University, where they played on a Christopher Newport Captains’ team that went to the Sweet Sixteen this year in the NCAA Division III championship. The Captains lost 87-70 to Whitman College in that round.
Stephanie Cheney, George Mason Class of 2013, is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, where she plays for a Pennsylvania Quakers team that won the Ivy League Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I championship tournament this year. The Quakers lost 79-61 to the University of Texas in the first round of the tournament.
The Quakers played their opening round match against the Texas Longhorns in the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center, which gave Cheney’s friends and family, including Thomas, a chance to watch her play.
“Stephanie is the all-time leading scorer [and] all-time leading rebounder in school history,” Thomas said. “To be able to go out and see her make it to the NCAA tournament as a freshman, it was great.”
Chantal Thomas, LaBryan’s daughter, and Mitchell went to the Division III Final Four as freshmen and the Elite Eight as juniors. Chantal Thomas had the second most assists on the Captains her junior year and fifth most assists and steals her senior year. Mitchell was a second team All-Conference selection her sophomore year and third team All-Conference selection her junior year. This year she was a first team All-Conference selection and was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16 points a game.
“It’s great. You always want to see your kids achieve their goals,” Thomas said. “Especially for Chantal and Nicole, they’re seniors this year and they’ve had great collegiate careers.”
Cheney said it was “incredible” to play for the Quakers as they won their first Ivy League title in 10 seasons.
“I kind of relate it to my freshman year in high school because we also won the state championship that year,” Cheney said. When the Mustangs won the state championship during Cheney’s freshman year and Thomas’ and Mitchell’s junior years in 2008-09, it was the program’s first in 10 seasons.
That championship was the first of LaBryan Thomas’ accomplished stint as head coach of the program. Cheney credited him with being instrumental in helping her and her former teammates garner interest from college basketball programs and reach the next level of competition.
“He’s such a great resource,” Cheney said. “And he’s such a great coach to have in terms of being able to communicate with college coaches and just having our best interests at heart.”