By Natalie Heavren
As the air gets colder, fall sports give way to the winter season, with George Mason High School’s girls and boys basketball, swimming and wrestling teams all kicking off competition this week.
Across the board the teams are looking forward to the challenge of moving to the Northwestern District.
The change in the competitive landscape will test each program’s ability to repeat their previous successful seasons, but all the coaches maintain the new challenge is a welcome test for their teams.
Finishing a bucket shy of a berth in the Class 2 state tournament last year, the Mustangs’ girls basketball team is looking to keep up that momentum for the 2019-20 season.
Even with a core group of returning players, the team will have to compensate for the loss of production and leadership in last year’s Bull Run District Player of the Year, Maddie Lacroix.
The team is young, composed of two seniors and nine underclassmen. Head coach Chris Carrico believes that all 11 players will be able to regularly contribute to the team.
Carrico thinks the biggest challenge the team will face is the unfamiliarity of the teams in their new district, but plans to tackle the challenge by staying true to the team’s identity.
He’s most excited “to see how much the girls will push each other throughout the year to get better both individually and as a team. Competition within our team is a great thing and will help throughout the year.”
Mason’s boys basketball team went a step further in the postseason than its female counterparts by bowing out in the state quarterfinals, but suffered a bigger loss in the departure of longtime head coach Chris Capannola.
It’s been two decades since someone other than “Cap” patrolled the sidelines for the Mustangs. However former assistant coach Michael Gilroy, who served a three-year stint as the girls team’s head coach recently, is a worthy candidate to replace Capannola.
Gilroy is excited about the change in district and the prospect of seeing teams for the first time, compared to knowing everything about the teams Mason played in years past.
The new coach is also impressed with the commitment his young team has shown. After graduating eight seniors last year, the four returners attended every offseason workout.
He is looking for the returning seniors to quickly learn how to be more vocal after losing a significant amount of senior leadership last season. That includes two of Mason’s four 1,000 point scorers in school history, Max Ashton and Hollman Smith.
The team is not fazed by the turnover from last season, and are looking to win the Northwestern District, move through regionals and get right back to the state tournament at the Class 3 level.
Gilroy is planning to achieve this by continuing to lead the team just as Capannola did. His mindset for his team this season is to show up every day, work hard and practice.
With such a young team this season, Gilroy is looking for senior Daniel Miller and juniors Bobby Asel and Deven Martino to step up on and off the court.
After sporting a full line up of 14 wrestlers for the first time in more than 20 years and coming within a few points of winning the Bull Run District title, the Mustangs’ wrestling team intends to use that landmark season to build the program into a more potent force going forward.
Five seniors, nine juniors, 14 sophomores and 12 freshmen to go with seven eighth graders make Mason very young, according to head coach Jason Perkins. Regardless, the Mustangs are looking forward to the challenges that await them in the rigorous Northwestern District. Perkins believed the work ethic of the juniors and seniors has transferred to the rest of the team.
One of the team’s largest obstacles is experience, according to Perkins, as well as physical strength in fitness. He noted that many students do not start wrestling until between eighth and tenth grade, so conditioning has been emphasized at the beginning and end of practice.
Ahead of their first varsity competition this Saturday, Mason will come together to create their team goals. Perkins could not speak for the wrestlers themselves, but hopes that he is able to keep the sport playful and tough, despite the demanding nature of the sport.
However, he added, “Having said that, I want to have an intense and hard working practice room where all levels of wrestlers get what they need to reach their potential. In the end I would like to form a tight knit team, that truly care for one another and will be there to support one another when needed and push one another to levels we cannot reach alone.”
Overall, Perkins said “I am excited to look into the eyes and the souls of our wrestlers when they come off the mat in victory or defeat having pushed themselves and their opponent to the absolute limit.”
Both the Mustangs’ boys and girls swimming teams ended their tenure at the Class 2 level on a high note, with a state championship for the boys and being state runner-up for the girls. Head coach Meghan Wallace is looking to have another exemplary season by using accomplishments of the team from last year as fuel for future success.
The two teams have just four seniors total, and are composed primarily of juniors and underclassmen.
Wallace said that half of the team is made up of swimmers who swim year round. That’s a big reason the program’s last postseason run included district and region championships as well.
Wallace sees the change in district as the biggest challenge for the team, saying, “We honestly do not know much about these teams; it’s almost as if we are going in blind.”
Unsure of how this season will go she added, “We will just work our hardest and cheer for each other at meets and if we come out with wins and even state cuts, then great. I will continue to make sure the practices are beneficial for all swimmers so that we are prepared for any type of team we may face.”
She is most excited to be returning to a group that works hard and enjoys seeing them improve their times and make state cuts.