Late this season, the Lee High School basketball team, a pre-season favorite in Northern Virginia, had just come off a three-game losing streak. A 25-point loss to Groveton High; a 10-point, homecourt loss to Mount Vernon, and an 8 point loss to Hayfield.
Coach Charlie Thompson admits he almost panicked after those losses. So what did he do? Nothing.
"We lost to Hayfield on a Tuesday and our next game was on a Friday," Thompson recalls. "So I said, "Look, you guys get away from me for a while, and I'll get away from you.No practice this week. Just show up for Friday's game.'
"They won that Friday. I think it was because they didn't like how it felt to not have basketball. They haven't lost since."
Last weekend, Lee won a spot in the state semifinals when it won the Northern Region tournament by defeating Mount Vernon 56-51. Another Northern Virginia entry is the Robinson High girls' team, which defeated Woodson 50-38 last weekend. The semifinals open tonight in Charlottesville when Robinson taken on E. C. Glass of Lynchburg. Tomorrow night Lee will play Patrick Henry of Roanoke. The state finals will be Saturday night.
For Lee coach Thompson, it has been a season of ironies.
Even though he had three returning starters and was winning early in the season, Thompson was not satisfied.
"It seemed like we wanted everything given to us," he says. "We didn't seem ready to go out and take things. We'd blow 15 point leads and hang on to win. rI was afraid we'd hit a bad streak."
But after Lee recovered from the three-game "bad streak," the team's fortunes began improving.
Of late, Lee has been on a shooting spree. In the quarter finals of the regional tournament, the Lancers made 67 percent of their shots in an overtime victory over West Springfield. In the semi-final defeat of South Lakes, Lee shot 72 percent. And in the final round against Mount Vernon, the Lancers shot 65 percent.
"The kids have really taken control of the games now," Thompson says. "They're making very good shot selections. That's when we're at our best."
The point man for the offense is guard Ron Wood, named the most valuable player this year in the Gunston District and Northern Region tournaments. Wood averages 20 points per game.
But guard Todd-Crist, a defensive specialist who leads the team in steals, averages 17 points per game, making it difficult for teams to put too much pressure on Wood.
Two forwards, Rick Hancock at 6-foot-7 and Tony Farris at 6-foot-5, provide rebounding strength. Swing guard Tom Estepp, "is best under pressure because he settles us down," Thompson says. "We like to control the tempo even if it means keeping the score close. We've been in a lot of overtime games, so we feel we can handle pressure."
Lee has played 16 overtime periods this season, five of them in one game against Groveton, which the Lancers finally won 52-50.
With his plan for controlling the tempo, Thompson was confident as he led his team into the finals against Mount Vernon, which had defeated Lee twice in four regular season matches.
"Since we had played four times already, they knew everything about us," Thompson says. "We call our defenses with hand signals from the bench. I figured (Mount Vernon Coach) Don McCool knew my signals. So I changed them. That kept them off balance long enough for us to gain control." c
While Lee is making its first appearance in the state tournament, it's nothing new for Coach Addison Carley and his Robinson team. This is their third trip in a row, and the fourth in five years.
Robinson has won the state title twice -- in 1977 and 1980.
The Rams have lost only twice in 24 games this year, averaging 63.5 points per game while allowing opponents an average of 48 points per game.
"We have a very balanced attack," Carley says. "We like to run, but we can be patient if we have to."
Robinson is led by 6-foot-2 Debbie Young and 5-foot-11 Teresa Rouse. But in the regional final against Woodson, Kim Skala scored 15 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and dealt off 11 assists to lead the victory.
"This was the best year ever in our district as far as competition goes," Carley says. "We had some tough games, and that will help us in the state tournament."