The George Mason High School scholastic bowl team won the state tournament last weekend, ending an unblemished Virginia High School League season and bringing home the championship trophy for the fourth consecutive year. The victory marks an end of an era for the Mustangs, as a reorganization of VHSL team groupings will see the Mason team in new competition as part of Group 2A instead of its native Group A.
The top teams from across the state gathered at the College of William and Mary last Saturday to vie for the championship. Captain Liam O’Connell, fellow seniors Crystal Luo and Andrew Rochman, juniors Elinore McLain and Matt Earman, and sophomore Jarman Taylor represented Mason in the double-elimination tournament, going up against the best teams from seven Group A schools to defend its long-held title.
The Mustangs had a deep cheering section despite the many miles to Williamsburg, with Mason Principal Ty Byrd and Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones making the trek along with the players and their families. A handful of Mason alums also came out to show their support, including former scholastic bowl team members who now study at William and Mary.
“We had a whole extended family of Mason supporters in Williamsburg, which made the last state tournament in the current VHSL groupings a really special one,” said George Mason teacher and team coach Jamie Scharff.
The Mason team had a slow start in the knowledge-based question-and-answer competition by missing the first two toss-up questions and falling behind 20 points against the team from Lebanon High School. But the Mustangs rallied, ending the first round of the match-up at 100-45 and finishing with a dominating 350-75.
“It’s one thing to do this in local competition, but to do this at the state tournament is really impressive so it gave our team a nice feeling that we were off to a strong start,” Scharff said.
Mason moved on to face Nandua High School, who was coming off of a victory by a slimmer margin, 235-50, over Chilhowie High School. Mason gave Nandua its first defeat of the tournament, 280-150. Nandua, who tied for fifth place in the tournament with Chilhowie, was eliminated in the next round of competition by Radford High School.
Radford had barely edged out the competition, beating Manassas Park High School by a single question and besting Nandua by only 15 points before facing Honaker High School to see who would play Mason for the title.
“The games between the second through fifth place teams show that they were all good, evenly matched teams,” Scharff said.
Mason beat Honaker in its third round, 300-135, and Honaker beat Radford on a sudden death tie-breaker to earn its spot in the finals against Mason. Radford and Manassas Park came in third and fourth in the tournament, respectively.
Both Honaker and Mason had gone undefeated in their entire VHSL schedules this season.
The strong showing by Honaker and Mason at last year’s state tournament, and the return of its best players (O’Connell and, for Honaker, junior Jacob Mitchell) had Scharff thinking that the teams would see a rematch in this year’s tournament.
“The closeness of their game against Manassas Park, whom we had beaten by much bigger margins at district and region, gave me confidence that we were probably the stronger team,” Scharff said.
And indeed, with a 240-170 victory, the Mason scholastic bowl team pushed Honaker to second place and successfully defended the state title.
In becoming part of Group 2A, Mason will bring an end to a long legacy of victory in Group A and will have some new opponents to face. With the change comes uncertainty, but Scharff says how his team will fare in competition isn’t that important.
“Winning is really nice, but what I really enjoy is being around students who like learning new things,” Scharff said. “We don’t practice in order to do well in tournaments, we compete in tournaments because it gives us a reason to get together to practice! And if we enjoy it enough to do it a lot, we will probably do pretty well in tournaments.”