The Notre Dame girls' basketball team won its final 11 games last season, finished with a record of 26-2 and was ranked 16th in The Post's top 20. But in spite of all that success, the Dragons' season ended in disappointment.
When Notre Dame was ruled ineligible to compete in the Virginia Independent Schools Girls Basketball Association tournament at the conclusion of last season, the team was denied a chance to compete for its most coveted accomplishment -- a state championship.
Now, as the Dragons begin their third season under Coach Mike Teasley, they are motivated by frustration.
"I'm trying to win a state championship my senior year," senior swingman Lauren Thomas-Johnson said. "That's what I'm aiming for."
In its ruling last February, the VISGBA executive committee excluded Notre Dame from the state tournament for several reasons. This season, Teasley has addressed those reasons to ensure no such fate befalls his team again.
"Winning the state championship is our goal," Teasley said. "We will play for a state championship every year. We really can't control the politics of the organization that runs the state's private schools. We're at the mercy of them whether we play at the end of the year or not. We're in good standing with them right now."
Teasley has attempted to appease the VISGBA with a schedule that includes more opponents that are Virginia Independent School members. After playing three VIS members last season, the Dragons will play nine this year.
Also, Notre Dame left the Apple Valley Conference, which consisted of public and private schools in Maryland and West Virginia in addition to Notre Dame. The Dragons are now members (in all sports) of the Cavalier Athletic Conference -- a newly-formed, small Virginia private-school league.
Teasley said he presented his team's schedule to the VISGBA in November and believes his team is in good standing with the association. That bodes well for a team that has the talent to compete for a state final.
The Dragons' title hopes rely heavily on Thomas-Johnson, their lone senior. She averaged a team-high 14 points and four rebounds last season, her first in the program. She recently committed to Marquette.
"Lauren is a skilled guard that's able to help our team win in a variety of ways," Teasley said. "I expect Lauren to . . . play like she's the older kid, like she's the more experienced player and put the team on her back."
Thomas-Johnson isn't shying away from her leadership role. She is eager to play well and make up for last season's disappointment.
"I'm just trying to step my game up this year and play like a senior," she said. "I'm not new anymore. I don't want to play like the new kid. I want to be the best."