For the George Mason High School athletics program, one theme is common this winter among all four head coaches: Redemption. Each believed last season’s squad had success, but still fell short of their ultimate goal of winning state titles.
This year, they said, will be different.
George Mason girls basketball coach LaBryan Thomas isn’t afraid of bold predictions.
Not when his team – the state champions two of the past three years – returns all five starters. Not when it’s a squad he believes might have more talent than any he’s previously coached.
“I expect a lot out of this team,” Thomas said. “I would be greatly disappointed if we didn’t win it all.”
But talent and experience aren’t the only reasons for optimism. Though the Mustangs (26-3 last season) took the Bull Run District and Region B championships a year ago, they are coming off a lopsided 63-36 loss to Radford High School in the state semi-finals.
That defeat, Thomas said, has provided an extra incentive and focus heading into the season.
“They’ve worked extremely hard all year during the offseason to prepare for another run,” Thomas said. “We have some really motivated young ladies that are bound and determined to get back to the state tournament.”
George Mason’s success this season will largely depend on talented senior point guard Leah Roth, who Thomas says is also the vocal leader of the team. She’s joined in the backcourt by senior Krista Kelly.
The post presence will come from senior Lauren Kane, senior Stephanie Cheney – last season’s Bull Run District Player of the Year – and sophomore center Ashley Alexander.
The season begins at home Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. against Broad Run High School.
Winning the Bull Run District and Virginia Region B is one thing. Defending the titles the following year is another.
But with a star-studded roster returning once again for the George Mason boys basketball team, that’s exactly what it plans to do.
“The guys are really fired up to do what they did last year again and maybe even go a little further,” Mustang coach Chris Capannola said. “It’s a lot of pressure on them, but I think they are up for it.”
George Mason anticipates another major season thanks to its wealth of experience.
The Mustangs bring back four of five starters from last year’s team – seniors Noel Obusan, Jeremy Stewart, Philippe Griffiths and Nate Ogle – each of whom made the All-District squad.
Obusan and Stewart form a talented backcourt while Griffiths, Ogle and senior Dmitri Venets look to anchor a revamped inside presence.
According to Capannola, finding a replacement for departed senior and top low-post threat Brandon Alexander will be the greatest challenge.
“We don’t have that big stopper in there, so we are going to have to find other ways to defend the post and rebound a little bit,” he said. “We can do it, but we have just a little different make up than last year without the size inside.”
Another potential problem is the motivation of other teams. As defending champions and the pre-season favorites, George Mason will get the competition’s best effort each night.
Capannola, though, said he’s confident his team will be ready for any opponent.
“We’re the hunted now for the first time,” he said. “Last year we sort of snuck up on people, but this year everybody knows what we have coming back. We’re going to be difficult to beat every night, no matter who we play.”
The season begins Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. at the Loundon County Tip-Off Tourney at Loudon County High School.
At this time last year, George Mason wrestling coach Bryan Harris wasn’t sure what to expect from his team.
Outside of a few veterans, not enough members of the squad had the necessary mat time to legitimately compete at the varsity level. In fact, Harris was even forced to start five first-year wrestlers.
Things have changed.
Harris said at least 75 percent of his team has significant experience. This includes three senior wrestlers – Danny Seidita (119 lbs.), Ze’ev Lailari (135 lbs.), and Alborz Alaeddini (140 lbs.) – that competed in the state tournament a season ago.
“Overall, we’re pretty optimistic,” Harris said. “It’s going to be one of the first years in a while where we are going to be able to put together a full lineup. That’s been one of our hurdles in the past in terms of being successful as a team.”
But if the Mustangs hope to contend in a tough Bull Run District, they’ll need major production from their senior leaders. “All three of them were pretty disappointed with how the season ended last year,” Harris said. “They all had higher expectations, so they are all coming in with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They are all seniors and know this is their last shot, so I think that’s really driving them.”
The season opens Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. at Potomac School.
George Mason swimming coach Jon-Michael Lemon ended last season with a bitter taste in his mouth.
For first time in his six-year tenure, he did not have a girl qualify for the state tournament.
Lemon, though, believes this won’t be a common occurrence.
“I think this year we will have some individual qualifiers as well as several relay qualifiers,” he said. “That’s a goal that I’ve already heard several of the girls talking about – getting a female contingent back in the state meet.”
In order to do that, he’ll be counting on senior Carolyn Schmitt and junior Julia Estrada to improve on last year’s outcome. Both qualified for the regional tournament last season.
And while Lemon is excited about what he sees from the girls team, the same could be said about the boys.
Junior Lucas Cherry and sophomore Nick Roberson each competed in the state meet last year and have expectations of returning once more.
Cherry and Roberson have also taken it upon themselves this offseason to become better team leaders.