Beyond the X's and O's of the game and the final score, some area coaches have come to one conclusion as to why their teams have advanced to the state tournament.
"You have to play with a sense of urgency," said Forest Park Coach Chrissy Kelly, who will take the Bruins girls to the state tournament for the fifth consecutive season after a 58-54 overtime win Thursday over George Washington-Danville. "It has to come from the seniors because it's their last chance, and you have to play with that urgency because you don't have the ability to say, 'Oh, we've got next year.' "
Nsonji White, in his third season as the girls' coach at Stonewall Jackson, is trying to copy the success Kelly has brought to Forest Park. The Raiders clinched their first state tournament berth with a 52-37 win over Hylton on Thursday, and White said he is just starting to see his team -- which has only two seniors -- play with that sort of urgency.
"I am looking for urgency on defense every night, and once we do that, we will be a real good team like a Forest Park," White said. "I think they come out with urgency, and that's what we lack."
Freedom-Woodbridge boys' coach Ahmad Dorsett has seen his players' growing desire to achieve the lofty goals they set at the beginning of the season. The Eagles also clinched their first state tournament berth with a 62-45 win over Brooke Point on Thursday.
"They're hungry, focused and motivated," Dorsett said. "They have a different demeanor now because there are only eight teams left in the state. These kids know they are at a different level of play, and they are carrying themselves in such a first-class fashion that you would think they are getting ready to start the season."
Although White hopes his players soon will match Forest Park's sense of urgency, his team is beginning to carve out an identity as a defense-minded team, just as Kelly's Forest Park teams always have been. Through Thursday, Stonewall had held three opponents to fewer than 40 points in the playoffs, and none had scored more than 50.
"I saw in the paper that Chrissy said, 'Just imagine if we played offense the way we play defense,' " White said. "I think it's the other way around for us: Just imagine if we played defense like we play offense all the time."
Although White and Kelly are hoping their defense can carry them far into the state tournament, Dorsett is looking forward to the day he doesn't have to coach anymore. That will happen if all of his players peak at the same time.
"Aw, man," Dorsett said, reflecting on the thought. "That's hard for that to happen, but if they all peak at same time, I am just going sit down and watch."
Freedom has shown signs, getting more production out of key bench players such as Sadonis Davis, Brandon McLilly and Stephen Wing.
"I think the work ethic and commitment and dedication we have had from players that have chosen to step into this program, from Day One, is what has gotten us this far," Dorsett said.
For Stonewall, success this season has been three years in the making. For two years, White had to battle his players' inferiority complex as another Cedar Run District team that couldn't compete with Cardinal District opponents. Teams from Woodbridge traditionally have handled those from Manassas, but Stonewall became the exception to that when it beat Hylton on Thursday.
The Raiders became the first team from the current Cedar Run alignment to make it to the state tournament since the district was formed. When White started as coach at Stonewall, he would wear Forest Park and Hylton T-shirts to infuriate his players. But that also created a deep sense of motivation to beat teams from Woodbridge.
"Hylton and Forest Park get more recognition because of the side of the county they are on," said junior Gwen Washington, the Cedar Run District Player of the Year. "It just makes us want to work harder, but it sure feels good to finally beat one of them after losing twice this season."
It was motivation from losing that drove the Bruins to work hard enough to make their first state tournament in 2003 and ultimately what pushed them to win it all in 2004 and 2006.
"My first year coaching I remember getting hammered by teams that would still press even when they were up 80 to 30," Kelly said. "Those kids understood what it was like to get beaten that bad, and I have never seen a team work harder in practice."
Therein lies the challenge Kelly has faced with this season's team -- all it has known is success.
"When all you know is state championships, it's a little unrealistic," Kelly said. "It doesn't just happen. Success can be great, but it also breeds greediness; not that these kids are greedy, but I just don't think they understand. You don't understand what it means to be rich unless you have been poor."
Kelly thinks her team rediscovered some urgency after losing to rival Hylton in the district title game and credits that loss as the reason her team beat Brooke Point and Danville to advance to states again.
On Thursday, "there was a critical time during the game where Candice Drakeford pulled the whole team together and provided the sort of leadership that only comes from seniors," Kelly said. "I don't know what she said, but they started doing what they are supposed to do. You could see it in the seniors' eyes that they finally had realized it -- there is no time to sit back and wait."
The 1,000 ClubSeveral area players surpassed 1,000 career points recently, including Jaren Haley and Cameron Long, both on the Freedom boys' team. Stonewall senior Derrick Johnson finished his career with 1,223 points to become the second-leading scorer in school history. Brentsville junior Kimmy Hopkins, Hylton junior Ariana Moorer and Freedom senior Domonique Stroman all recently eclipsed the mark.