That Stafford is the only high school in the Washington area undefeated in both boys and girls basketball is noteworthy enough. How the Indians have pulled it off is even more interesting.
The teams, which each finished just a game over .500 last season, are winning in their own ways, the boys by parading a host of eager players to the scorer's table every several minutes, and the girls by coaxing a season-best performance from someone new just about every night now that two starters have been sidelined by disturbing injuries.
"It's human interest," boys coach Steve Spicer said of Stafford supporters rallying around their star-less teams. The girls "have faced a lot of adversity. Teams respond to that situation. Us, on the other hand, we have several kids we're able to play right now."
Spicer plays a starting five that usually surges to a lead, and then he inserts another five players to nurse that lead, or even stretch it. The boys are 11-0 headed into tonight's game--their first at home since Dec. 17--against Stonewall Jackson.
"It's very unique what's happening here," said Spicer, in his 11th year at the school. "I wish you could answer [why, because] we'd answer it every year."
"Maybe it just happens to be that this is the year everything falls into place both for his team and for my team," girls coach Rick Butler said at the school Monday, as the boys team practiced behind him. Despite injuries, Butler's girls are 8-0 heading into tonight's game at Stonewall.
With the boys, Spicer uses a platoon system in which he inserts a fresh five into the game to spell the starting five, and then he rotates the groups. That makes for a fresh 10 come the fourth quarter.
"Sometimes it feels like you could play two or three games the way we're playing because you're so fresh at the end of a game," said reserve senior guard Gee Gee Bean, who has fielded inquiries from neighbors curious about the sudden success of a team that had gone 84-131 the previous 10 years. "It's like, 'Wow, that game went by so quickly, and we came out with a win.' "
"Some games, I really don't even feel tired," said guard Rudy Kelly who, like back-court mate Hugh Parker, averages a team-leading 13 points per game. "Last year I'd be exhausted and ready to go to sleep."
If Spicer is not happy with the first five--seniors Parker and Kelly and juniors Rashard Johnson, Cole Copley and Chris Kay--he does not hesitate to summon the second group--junior Alan Cascio, sophomore Brad Hayes and seniors Bean, Chris Downing and Matt Matter.
"When people are playing--whether it be two minutes, four minutes, eight minutes, 12 minutes a game--they're playing, so they're staying happy," said Spicer, who has 10 players averaging four or more points a game.
"Practices are pretty competitive," he said. "The kids realize we have somebody who can come on the floor and take their spot. They know that we mean that, especially on defense. If they're not doing the job on defense, then we're going to yank them in a heartbeat."
The Indians, whose successful season was foreshadowed when they won the Five County Summer League title, certainly had no defensive hitches in a dominating win over Liberty at Fauquier High School. Stafford romped, 64-15. The closest game so far has been a two-point win over tonight's opponent, Stonewall, in the third game of the season. Three of the Indians' wins have come against 1-7 teams James Monroe and Stonewall, but the other eight have been against teams with a combined record of 39-30, including holiday tournament wins over Commonwealth District rivals Brooke Point and Fauquier.
"I know when Steve was on the road playing in the tournament in Fauquier, there were people I talked to who said, 'Hey, I'm going to drive out to Fauquier to watch those boys play because they're fun to watch and they're exciting,' " said Butler, who joined the faithful in the stands. "It's nice to have folks come out and watch you play and be a part of your program. As far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier."
Butler would be even merrier if he had more girls healthy enough to play. His team's opponents have a collective record of 20-49, but considering the Indians are toiling without starters Shanna Hylton and Meghan Wilson, any win is satisfying. Stafford had just eight players in uniform for a game last week against James Wood.
"It looked like we had a coaching staff of eight," Butler said of the high number of girls in street clothes. "We had more coaches than we had players. But the kids who couldn't play were just as into the game as the kids who were playing. From a fan's standpoint, I guess that is endearing to see kids who even though they're banged up and hurt a little bit, they're still right there with the team."
Hylton, a sophomore guard, is recovering from a concussion in practice last month. Wilson has missed the past two games with a heart condition that is still being diagnosed. It is unknown when the girls will return to the team, if they will at all, but even without them a fourth Northwestern Region playoff appearance in five years is a realistic goal.
"I thought we'd work hard and be a winning team, but I don't know if we thought we'd be in this good of a position," said Wilson, who still attends the team's practices despite her inactivity.
Part of the intrigue of following the boys and girls teams is figuring out who the key players might be on a particular night. Nine boys have scored eight or more points in at least one game. For the girls, junior forward Jean Cornwell has scored 42 points the past three outings after totaling just five points in all the previous games combined. Senior Megan Hanson, junior Angie Mathis and sophomore Becky Johnsen all posted season highs Friday in the short-handed, 72-32 win over James Wood. This shared wealth is a far cry from last season, when a young team tended to rely too heavily on graduated seniors Kari Fredette and Karen Sowala.
"At the end of each game, we don't talk about who got the most points," Butler said. "We talk about who got the most steals. Who got the most blocked shots. Who got the most rebounds. Who got the most assists."
One of Butler's favorite moments this season had nothing to do with any of the above. He relishes the punishing charge the 5-2 Hanson absorbed from an Osbourn Park player whom the coach estimates was a foot taller than Hanson and 80 pounds heavier.
"Megan stepped in the lane and planted herself, and the girl hit her and knocked her a good 10 feet," Butler said. "She landed on her tailbone and practiced the next two practices with a stiff lower back because she just got decked. But in the postgame we were talking, and she said, 'I took that charge, didn't I coach?' Those are the kinds of things that have made it fun."
Fun not just for team members, but apparently for students and parents, as well.
"There have been so many people, compared to last year, who have come and watched us because they heard we're undefeated," said senior forward Betsy Decatur. "It's been weird. It's usually that they come to the boys game, and they don't come to the girls game, but this year they're coming to the girls games, too. That's neat."
"People hear how well we're doing over the announcements and in the newspaper, and it's a surprise," said sophomore center Megan Vrabel, who hit a game-winning 15-footer at the buzzer last week against Albemarle. "I think a lot of people are getting interested.
"It's fun just to play, and then when you win, it adds a little bit extra."
CAPTION: "It's human interest," boys coach Steve Spicer said of the Stafford community embracing the undefeated boys and girls basketball teams. The boys are 11-0 thanks to some key reserves; the girls are 8-0 despite injuries.
CAPTION: "Maybe it just happens to be that this is the year everything falls into place both for his team and for my team," said Rick Butler, Stafford girls coach.