They call it “Mayhem,” a high-pressure, court-swarming defensive attack that energizes their players and hampers opponents. Much like VCU’s “Havoc” defense, South County’s boys’ basketball team has used their own approach to find success under a new coach and build the Stallions as a viable region contender.

“Our main focus is defense because that’s what gets us opportunities on offense,” senior swingman Nate Barrigan said. “It motivates all of us and we hope it puts fear in the other team’s hearts.”

This past summer, however, it was Barrigan and some of his South County teammates who found themselves a bit anxious. Following the resignation of Wendell Johnson, who led the Stallions (8-3) on a Cinderella run to last year’s Northern Region semifinals, first-year Coach Travis Hess took over the position after coaching Langley for the past eight seasons.

“I was a little nervous because you go in not knowing what kind of style the coach is going to bring in or how it will all work,” said Barrigan, who averaged 4.7 points last season.

The frenetic defensive philosophy that Hess worked to implement was also new for him. The fact that the Stallions graduated their top three scorers from last year’s team only made things more challenging. But with the athletes remaining on the roster, Hess felt the system served as a logical shift from the halfcourt sets that the Stallions ran in the past. After dropping their first game against Hayfield by 16 and running into a tough Robinson team, South County hit its stride with four straight wins last month.

The top plays from the weekend of high school basketball in the D.C. area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

The most memorable of those victories came against West Potomac, with the Stallions perfectly executing a sideline throw-in play for the decisive layup in the waning seconds. Two games later, South County defeated T.C. Williams on the road for the first time in school history, setting off a raucous celebration in the locker room.

“We were just all clicking in that game and hyped up afterward, jumping all over Coach Hess,” Barrigan said. “Things are building in the right direction and it’s fun to be around.”

Barrigan has led the way in South County’s strong start, averaging 18.9 points and serving as a strong rebounding presence. While the Stallions are still in search of a second consistent scorer to complement Barrigan, players such as Jason Remy and Mark Elliot have stepped up at various times to provide a secondary scoring punch.

In their Dec. 27 win against Langley, eight different players scored, led by Barrigan’s 31-point outburst that included four three-pointers. The victory proved bittersweet for Hess, who was coaching against his former team for the first time. Some of the awkwardness was alleviated by the contest taking place at a neutral site during the Mount Vernon Holiday Tournament.

“It was definitely tough because I had a lot of great relationships those players and coaches,” Hess said. “They gave us a good effort and of course I’m glad we won, but it wasn’t like it was extra special to beat them.”

The victory marked one of several in which Hess felt like the Stallions were able to grind out wins even when the growing pains of a new system threatened to stymie them. Following a 10-day layoff, the Stallions will get another test this week when they battle W.T. Woodson on Tuesday followed by a scrappy West Springfield team on Friday.

“It can take a long time to really perfect what we’re trying to do defensively, so this winter break has been good for that with all the practice time we’ve had to focus on those things,” Hess said. “The style we play is fun and the guys are happy that we’re successful, but the thing I keep harping on them is we want to be playing our best basketball in February during the playoffs, not December. And we’re building towards that.”