In their last game before winter break, the George Mason High School varsity Girls Basketball team staved off a late rally by host Dominion High School, eking out a 51-41 victory in non-district action last Thursday night to secure their fourth straight victory this winter.
Playing without senior center Kim Kenny, who began an exchange trip to China shortly before the contest, the Mustangs turned to their vast depth to build an early lead that a late Titan charge could not overcome. Freshman Lauren Kane led the way for Mason, netting a game-high 14 points, while junior Nicole Mitchell continued her hot shooting on the perimeter, racking up 12 points on three bombs from beyond the arc.
“Even with Kim out, we still had the same game plan,” Mason coach LaBryan Thomas said. “We just put [senior] Mayssa Chehata inside, continued working the inside-out game. We’re going to live and die on that this year.”
A strong Mustang defense clamped down for 24 minutes, holding the Dominion offense to single digit points in each of the first three quarters. However, when a Titan rally in the final period threatened to cut into the 19-point lead Mason had established, the defense did just enough to come out with a victory.
“[Senior] Abby Stroup definitely stepped up today,” Thomas said. “We really turned the defensive pressure on them. I also saw that strong defensive play from [freshman] Bria Platenburg.”
The trio of starting freshman for Coach Thomas – Kane, Platenburg, and Leah Roth – combined to score 27 points for the Mustangs, but it was their ability to effectively run the offense and hold down the fort on defense which impressed their coach the most. Platenburg chipped in nine rebounds, six steals and three blocks to go along with her six points on the night.
“When Lauren got into foul trouble early, we turned to Nicole definitely kept us in the game in the first half,” Thomas said. “Even while battling back spasms, Nicole did a great job. When those started to slow her down in the second half, Lauren stepped up to score most of her points.”
Rounding out the top scorers for Mason was sophomore guard Abby Johansen, who came off the bench to score five points. Junior Kelsey Kane tacked on three, while sophomore Violet Miller and senior Abby Stroup added two apiece. For the Titans, Colleen Reynolds led the scoring with 14 points, while Dominion collectively shot 72 percent from the free-throw line to keep their chances at a comeback high.
In order to return to the form that earned them a bid in the state tournament last season, the Mustangs will have to minimize turnovers and improve free-throw shooting, two crucial strength’s of last year’s squad. Against Dominion, Mason shot just 39 percent from the charity stripe, while turning the ball over 26 times.
With the victory over Dominion, Mason improves to 6-2 on their 2008 campaign, but their record will be tested this Saturday at the Pohanka Chantilly Classic. At 5:45 p.m., the Mustangs will lock heads with reigning champion Chantilly High School, who defeated Mason in last year’s tournament, 56-38.
“We scouted Chantilly earlier this year,” said Thomas. “They’re not the powerhouse they have been in the past, but they’re still pretty good. They have a 6’2″ girl who works hard on defense and on the box, so it’s going to be tough for us.”
The Mustangs have just four contests left before opening up their district schedule with a Jan. 7 date at Madison County in defense of the Region B championship. In order to fill the void left by Kenny’s departure to China, the Mustangs will turn to a quartet of post-players in Stroup, Chehata, Courtney Ready and Kelsey Kane. Even with the heightened competition and the absence of Kenny over winter break, Thomas insists that Mason’s game plan will remain the same: an inside-out offense with a swarming defensive press.
“It’s sort of unspoken between the four girls, that we need them to step up, and it’s certainly been evident in practice lately,” Thomas said. “Tonight’s pressure was awesome, especially when we went to our ‘Mad Dog’ 1-2-2 defense. It’s really the perfect name for a defense for this team because we’re all out on the defensive end all the time.”