When the final four Virginia AAA girls' basketball teams gather in Lynchburg for this weekend's state championships, something will be conspicuously missing: the entire Northern Region.
The region has been a constant presence at the state level, with 14 semifinalists -- including eight runners-up and five state champions -- over the past 10 seasons.
But when Eastern Region runner-up Hampton eliminated Lake Braddock and Eastern Region champion Indian River stopped Chantilly on Saturday night, the Northern Region was left without a state semifinalist for the first time since 1992. The region has been represented in 10 straight state title games, a streak that will also end this year.
Several factors likely contributed to the region's early exit.
The region's consensus top two teams -- Patriot District champion West Springfield and Concorde District champion Chantilly -- were paired in the regional semifinals, meaning only one could advance to the state tournament. Both teams had played in states last year, with West Springfield going to the state final, but this year, Chantilly knocked off the Spartans.
The regional pairings helped a scrappy Lake Braddock team, which had lost to West Springfield by 57 and 44 points, advance to the regional final, in which the Bruins surprised Chantilly.
Also, because of the repeated snow cancellations, Northern Region teams were playing their fifth game in eight days on Saturday. The Eastern Region representatives had a full week to rest and scout their possible opponents.
"These are kids, it's not like they get tired physically, but it's hard for them to invest themselves emotionally five times in eight days," Lake Braddock Coach Derek Fisher said. "Every day you're playing the most important game of your life, and then you have to turn around and do it again the next night."
Finally, many of the Northern Region's stronger teams were led by sophomores and juniors. Oakton (14-10) started four sophomores, Jefferson (15-7) and Langley (15-11) each started three sophomores, Chantilly (22-6) and West Springfield each started two juniors and a sophomore, and regional champion Lake Braddock did not have a single senior on its roster. Of the 10 all-Northern Region selections, two were juniors and two were sophomores.
"Things go in cycles, and right now the Eastern Region is better than everyone else," Fisher said. "The sophomore class has just so many strong players throughout the Northern Region, and when these kids are juniors and seniors, I think maybe we'll start to catch up."