For Park View senior Sarah Mattusch, last Thursday night's bus ride to James Madison University's Convocation Center in Harrisonburg seemed eerily familiar. She didn't like it.
On the 2 1/2-hour trek to their Region II semifinal contest against Western Albemarle, the Patriots were talking and giggling. The game seemed to be the last thing on their minds.
A year earlier, a bus trip featuring similar frivolity preceded an embarrassing blowout loss to Lee-Staunton in a Region II semifinal, ending the Patriots' season. So, on Thursday, Mattusch delivered a simple message to her teammates: Quiet down and concentrate.
"We had talked about getting our game faces on and making sure we were focused," said Park View Coach Larry Simms. "Any time there was any talking or whispering or anyone wasn't preparing mentally, [Mattusch] was letting them know, there will be no talking."
"People were goofing off," Mattusch said. "I have to step up if nobody else will."
The Patriots heeded Mattusch's advice and stormed to a 45-34 victory over Western Albemarle. The victory gave Park View its first state tournament berth since 1995. The Patriots (25-1) will meet Tabb (21-5) on Saturday in the state quarterfinals.
Mattusch, who splits time at guard and forward, had 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals against Western Albemarle. But the co-captain's greatest contribution might have been leadership on the bus.
"Sarah has been the glue that has held us together this year," Patriots Coach Larry Simms said. "It was one of those years where she really came into her own and took a lot of responsibilities upon herself as a senior."
Last season was Mattusch's first on the varsity. She started occasionally but usually was first off the bench.
Since last year, however, Mattusch has improved significantly. She has averaged 13.2 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals and recently was named to the All-Dulles District second team. She attributes most of her growth to playing for the Loudoun Lady Heels, an elite AAU team that includes many of her Park View teammates.
"We knew she had all the tools to make a great ball player," Simms said. "She sort of stayed in the shadows last year, but this year she's answered the call and been a really pleasant surprise. There have been many ball games this year where she's carried us on her shoulders."
One in particular was the Dulles District championship game. Mattusch scored 19 points, topping 18 for the the fourth time this fall, to lead the Patriots to a 48-38 victory over Broad Run. A few days later in the Region II quarterfinals against Harrisonburg, she made two critical plays down the stretch in a 53-45 victory.
With less than three minutes left and her team trailing, 42-40, Mattusch attacked from the right baseline and hit an off-balance runner. After a Harrisonburg turnover, she muscled inside and missed but scrapped for the rebound and drew a foul. She made both free throws, and Park View had the lead for good.
Mattusch also takes over as the team's primary ball handler when junior point guard Jennifer Eppard is not in the game.
"That's the thing about her that makes her so valuable -- she's so versatile," Simms said. "She's confident in her ball-handling ability, and it's getting to the point now where she can put the ball on the floor and go to the basket hard. She's really a complete player. We're going to miss her next year."