In its first three years, Tuscarora’s boys’ basketball team struggled to establish itself as a contender in Loudoun County.
Three consecutive losing seasons left the stands empty, with no one paying much attention to the Huskies. In one season with a new coach and offensive philosophy, seemingly everything has changed.
The Huskies (17-7) are not only in the midst of their first winning season, but they’re heading to the 5A North region tournament. They’ll face Mount Vernon (12-13), the surprising runner-up from the Conference 13 tournament, in the first round Monday night in Alexandria.
It wasn’t an easy transition for Tuscarora. Coach Allen Smith, in his first season, brought in a new offense predicated on maximizing offensive possessions with quick shots while substituting players in large amounts. As sophomore guard Kyle Copeland admitted, there was some early trepidation.
“At first there was a lot of talk about the system not working, people didn’t like it,” Copeland said. “But [Coach Smith] is a good guy. I like the system now. It’s really helped us. It’s efficient.”
Tuscarora averages 80.7 points per game, good for third-best in the metro area. The Huskies got hot at the right time of the season, winning seven of their last eight games after a 10-6 start. Their season is continuing thanks to a 73-60 win over Briar Woods in the Conference 14 third-place game.
“We’re known as that team that doesn’t win,” sophomore forward Taija Blaylock said. “No one comes to our games. But after half of the season, people were like, ‘Whoa, Tuscarora’s showing out, they’re coming out.’”
Smith said he saw a change in his team occur against Briar Woods on Jan. 28. Tuscarora won 90-89 in overtime, which Smith believes sparked its recent run.
“It could have been easy [to not buy-in], based on what’s gone on the previous three years without much success,” Smith said. “I knew what people said about these guys. I’m proud they stayed in it, kept their heads in it and continued to work hard.”
A foul was called, and Collins limped to free throw line. With pain in her ankle, she calmly sank two free throws to put her team up 51-49, which ultimately gave the Eagles the conference crown.
“I just had to focus, take my time, work on my technique and make them,” said Collins, who had a bag of ice taped to her right ankle after the game. “That’s what I did both times.”
With Broad Run (16-8) hoping to send the game to overtime, Collins was also the one who altered what could have been a game-tying shot. Freedom-South Riding (20-4) prides itself on its defense, and Collins said it was fitting that the Eagles locked up their championship on that end of the court.
“That’s what we are, that’s what we’re about,” Collins said. “Defense wins games.”
Stewart scored 25 points in Broad Run’s 70-68 overtime win over Potomac Falls to capture the conference title. Leonard helped lead the Spartans back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter in a 51-49 loss to Freedom-South Riding.
Leonard, who averages 23.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game, was notified of winning the honor early last week by Broad Run Coach Sean Gundry.
“It means the world to her,” Gundry said. “She’s earned it. It’s one of those things where she’s probably the only one surprised she got it.”
In Conference 21, Dominion senior forward Tony Richardson and Heritage senior guard Kayla Tibbs earned player of the year honors. In Conference 28, Loudoun Valley senior power forward Paul Rowley was named player of the year.