When Tony Bentley took over the Wakefield basketball program this season, he handed out T-shirts to his players that read "Proud of the Past -- Excited About the Future." With three talented sophomores helping the team to a 5-2 start in the National District, the message on the shirts is starting to look prophetic.
After early-season struggles, the Warriors reached the .500 mark with an 85-73 win at Mount Vernon on Friday night. Wakefield (8-8 overall) had won four in a row going into Tuesday night's contest with district-leading Falls Church, which ended too late for this edition.
Bentley, who served the past 11 years as an assistant coach at Wakefield's Arlington rival Washington-Lee, replaced longtime coach Bob Veldran, who won more than 400 games for the Warriors.
Bentley, a 1990 W-L grad who played and coached against Veldran, said he entered the season planning to rely heavily on three sophomores -- 6-foot-4 post player Geoffrey Crawley (14.9 ppg), 6-6 wing Alex Irmer (13.2 ppg) and 5-7 point guard Kenny James.
"We might have asked too much of them too early," said Bentley, whose team's winning streak began after he started bringing the sophomores off the bench.
Bench time is a common thing under Bentley, who plays 13 or 14 players per game.
"This has made us better because our practices are more intense; guys are working hard, trying to get more minutes in the games," he said. "And, we're always able to put guys fresh guys out there, which helps our defensive effort."
Crawley, whom Bentley called the best athlete on the team, averaged 25 points last week in victories over Edison and Mount Vernon.
"Sometimes I don't even think he realizes how high he can jump," Bentley said of Crawley, who is in just his second season of organized basketball.
"He told me he was worried about being able to compete at the varsity level at his age, but after I saw him playing recreational ball, I told him to let me worry about what level he should be at."
Bentley said senior guard Josh Hall, a defensive and three-point shooting specialist; clutch performer junior guard Deidrich Gilreath and hard-working junior forward Chris Edmunds also have played prominent roles this season.
Lee Girls Close Ranks
By mixing pre-game meals, post-game meals, shootarounds, study halls and special community service events with the typical busy schedule of practices and games, Lee first-year girls' basketball coach Tes Sobomehin has instilled a heavy dose of camaraderie.
More than halfway through the season, it seems to have paid off. Lee (10-6, 4-3 Liberty District) has more than tripled last year's win total of three. And its double-digit victory total is the most at the school in more than 10 years.
"I'm into team building," said Sobomehin, a junior varsity coach and varsity assistant the past two years at Woodbridge, which reached the Virginia Group AAA semifinals last season. "We are playing as a unit. The parents see a difference, and they and the team are pleased."
Friday, the Lancers, who were 3-21 last year, knocked off Langley for the third time this season, 58-66, behind 21 points from senior center Ashley York and 14 points from senior guard Zena Johnson.
York and junior swing forward Kristen Key -- who each average more than 14 points a game -- are transfers from Mount Vernon. Sobomehin said the two newcomers are contributing, but didn't fully attribute Lee's turnaround to the play of the former Majors.
"They are helping us, but they are not the reason we're at where we are now," she said. "This is a program with a group of very talented girls who have played varsity since they were freshman. Now they are juniors. They just took time to develop."
Falls Church Sweeps Stuart
Five years ago, Falls Church swimming and diving coach Tim Boyd and then-Stuart swimming and diving coach Meghan Hall decided to make the natural rivalry between their two schools a little more special when they met in the pool.
They decided to name their annual dual meet "The Bell Meet" and bought two bells -- one that would go to the winning girls' team and one that would go to the winning boys' team.
"We practice at the same facility, the kids know each other, and the communities are close by," Boyd said. "We thought it would be great to start something up."
In front of several hundred spectators Friday night, the Falls Church boys' and girls' teams swept Stuart to collect both bells. It was the first time that one team completed a sweep in The Bell Meet.
Falls Church senior Kelsey Jeffers swam personal-best times to win the 500-yard freestyle (6:18.11) and 100 backstroke (1:08.38) in the girls' 183-131 victory. On the boys' side, Falls Church senior Danny Calcano won the 50 and 100 freestyle events, and sophomore Steven Wilkinson won the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly to lead the Jaguars to a 212-101 triumph.
Stuart sophomore Katie Connor won both the 50 and 100 freestyles for the Raiders.
The Falls Church boys' and girls' teams both are 5-1 heading into this weekend's National District meet. The Jaguar boys will go for their third consecutive district crown.