Doubt? Sure, Woodbridge boys' basketball coach Will Robinson had doubts about his team qualifying for the Northwestern Region tournament for an area-best 13th straight year, which the Vikings did Friday night with a 50-42 win over Hylton at Forest Park in a playback game to determine the regular season Cardinal District champion.
It has not been a sports jacket and water bottle sort of bench experience this season for Robinson, whose past dozen teams have won 18 games or more. No, it has been more of a lab coat and beaker existence in an elusive search for team chemistry while the elements are forever changing.
Consider that the Vikings at no time this season will have all their players healthy enough to practice at the same time; were without injured sophomore point guard Andre Bratton for about 10 games; lost their second-leading scorer, hobbled senior guard James Prince, for the season in late January; endured losses to teams they normally beat (Stonewall Jackson, Forest Park, Brooke Point, Hylton); used about 16 different starting lineups; and discovered that senior guard David Walker is asthmatic and has to be hooked up to a breathing machine at halftime.
Woodbridge trailed Gar-Field in the fourth quarter Thursday but pulled out a 53-51 win to force the playback, and the Vikings flirted with blowing a 22-point second-half lead Friday before pulling out a win thanks in great part to senior Darren Robertson, a starter who just became academically eligible the second semester.
"When you look at high school basketball -- or basketball, period -- when chemistry's everything, I have to feel extremely proud of them at this point," said Robinson, wearing a weary yet gratified smile. "When you're averaging only four or five losses a season and you're up to eight, and you're up and down as a team, and you're up and down in terms of who's playing and who's not, doubt does creep in at times.
"I said with them all along: We're still in the water. I'm still on the ship with them. We'll go down together. I'm not jumping off the ship at any time. Never felt like jumping off the ship. Still staying up late at night making sure that we're prepared. We're trying to battle through all of these things and make a run. You have to understand, of all people, I'm ecstatic about where we are right now. To even get to postseason play means an awful lot to me for what they've accomplished."
The Vikings (15-8), who opened Cardinal tournament play last night against Forest Park, shuddered at the thought of being remembered as the team that tarnished the program's postseason tradition. It was tough enough being the first Woodbridge squad to lose to Hylton in 24 meetings, which occurred Feb. 11.
"We weren't going to be the first team to not make it to regionals," said junior guard Daniel Fountain, who scored a team-high 17 points Friday. "[Not qualifying] was in all of our minds, but you can't be concentrating on that so much because then it takes the focus off your game."
"We knew we had to keep the reputation of Woodbridge up," junior guard Chris Kendall said.
One player who has bolstered that process is the late-arriving Robertson, who could only sit and simmer during the first semester after averaging 6.6 points last year. He pulled in 10 rebounds Thursday against Gar-Field and scored 10 points in the second half Friday, including two third-quarter three-pointers and two free throws with 49 seconds left after Hylton had whittled a 36-14 spread to 45-42.
If Woodbridge is to notch its first Virginia AAA state tournament berth since 1992-93 -- the puzzling flip side to the Vikings' stellar regional-qualifying track record -- Robertson will have to help lead the charge.
"It hurt" to not be able to play," said Robertson, who scored a career-high 20 points against Hylton last season. "You play with them so you know how they are, and you know when they need help. I just needed to take out my frustration when I came back and work my way back into the team, not just come out and automatically assume I'm going to do certain things that I can't do.
"If you can't fit into the team chemistry, then they don't need you out there."