By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s girls varsity basketball team will not go to the state tournament for the first time in seven seasons after they were eliminated from the Region 2A East tournament on Monday. The Mustangs lost 56-49 to East Rockingham High School in the opening round of the regional tournament.
It was the Mustangs’ earliest exit from the postseason tournament since LaBryan Thomas became head coach of the varsity team ahead of the 2008-09 season.
“It’s not a good feeling because we had the potential and the talent to be [in the state tournament], but we just didn’t come together at the end of the season,” Thomas said .
Thomas said the Mustangs amassed too many turnovers against the East Rockingham Eagles, but that he isn’t dissatisfied with his team’s performance. According to Thomas, there were 32 turnovers between both teams at halftime.
“I’m not disappointed because the girls played very well last night,” Thomas said. “It was a struggle – two young teams, a lot of turnovers – but East Rockingham, I’ve got to give them all the credit. They hung in there, and the last minute and a half of the game they came together and pulled out the win.”
It was a one-point game with a minute and a half, according to Thomas. He said the Eagles hit their free throws down the stretch to put together a last-minute run to put the Mustangs away.
“It was a rough game for both teams,” Thomas said. “But [for] the final outcome, the team with the last run in the contest won the game.”
The Mustangs were also eliminated from the Conference 35 tournament last week after a 74-51 loss to Luray High School last Wednesday. According to Thomas, the Mustangs didn’t “show up” in their loss to the Luray Bulldogs in the conference tournament, which he called a tough loss.
“That was the worst game of the year for us,” Thomas said. “ I don’t know if it was a long bus ride or – I don’t know – we did not play to our potential and I think the last couple games of the season we didn’t play up to our potential.”
He said that youth was a contributing factor to the Mustangs’ slump late in the season.
“We’re young,” Thomas said. “Young teams go through low moments and that was one of the low moments.”
Despite the falloff from previous seasons, the Mustangs finished regular season with a 15-4 record. The Mustangs lost their first two district matches since the 2010-11 season this year, but won every other regular season district matchup, often beating their opponents by 20 points or more.
“Congratulations on an outstanding year. They’re a young team. They grew throughout the season and got better every game,” said George Mason Principal Tyrone Byrd. “I always appreciate when a kid is willing to go out there with our name across their chest and give their all.”
The Mustangs are only a season removed from losing the leading scorer and rebounder in George Mason history, Stephanie Cheney, to graduation. They’ve lost nine players to graduation in the past two seasons and half of their roster this season didn’t have more than a year of experience competing at the varsity level. Thomas said he expects the team to be just as successful – if not, more – next season as the team will have 11 returning players “hungry” for more success.
“I thought they’d struggle more given the losses we had with the seniors who graduated last school year, but on a game-to-game basis you could see that growth and maturity coming out,” Byrd said. “Coach Thomas and his staff did such an amazing job getting those kids ready for the next opponent. Just the positive energy that’s part of that team and it’s infectious throughout our entire school.”