When Doug Craig returned to school Friday following a four-day break due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and weather closures, the W.T. Woodson boys’ basketball coach was welcomed with the news that the basketball court was submerged under water due to a burst pipe.

Craig won’t know the extent of the damage and repair time until workers arrive on Tuesday, temporarily displacing a 12-3 Woodson team with four home games remaining and potentially more should it earn one of the top seeds in the Conference 7 and 6A North region playoffs.

“It happened some time Thursday night or Friday morning and people described it to me as a waterfall falling on the floor,” said Craig, who is searching for other options at nearby schools and colleges. “Hopefully it’s not as bad as we’re anticipating, but it certainly will put us in flux for the next week or so.”

Though it came under different circumstances, the Cavaliers also found themselves in transition to start the season after graduating four of their starters from last year’s Virginia AAA state semifinalist team. New faces abounded, including two talented transfers in junior guard Trey Johnson (Middleburg Academy) and sophomore Matt Ayoub (Paul VI).

As reigning Patriot District Player of the Year Eric Bowles worked to balance his increased offensive responsibilities while remaining the team’s facilitator and former reserves Andy Stynchula and Tyler Wilson adjusted to starting roles, the Cavaliers stumbled to a 1-2 start, albeit to ranked teams Herndon and Edison.

Since then, Woodson has found consistency and success through its defense, holding both Green Run and T.C. Williams to just 36 points during its current eight-game winning streak.

“Our defense is the best thing we do, and we’ve shown that lately,” said Bowles, who is averaging a team-high 14.2 points. “That’s helped all of us in our new roles. For me, last year, I ran the team and scored if I had to. But this year, I’ve had to still facilitate while looking for my shot more and playing longer. We’re not fully there yet but we’re on track to getting where we need to be as a team.”

A year ago, the Cavaliers hit their stride in the second half of the season, and they appear to be following that pattern again. Bowles stands as the facilitator and first scoring option. Ayoub is a solid shooter and second scoring punch. Stynchula serves as the stalwart in the post. Wilson and Johnson provide sparks with their up-tempo play, and senior Jimmy McLaughlin has emerged as a defensive force who typically guards the other team’s best player.

The collective approach has helped the Cavaliers surge to the top of the Conference 7 standings entering Monday’s road game against second-place Lake Braddock.

“Last year, the only reason we made the run we did was because of how we played together as a unit,” Craig said. “Everybody has gotten better and has improved from playing a tough early schedule and we’re starting to learn each other better. Hopefully we can be a tough out here in the postseason and recapture some of that magic from last year.”

Defensive focus sparks Chantilly

Like most coaches, Chantilly’s Jim Smith figured last month’s season opener against Fairfax would be the first of several games in which the handful of new faces on his team would begin to build chemistry. But about one minute into the contest, the Chargers were forced to go back to the drawing board.

Junior swingman Josh Conwell went down with a season-ending knee injury, sidelining a player whom Smith thought would be the team’s second scoring option behind senior guard Deandre Harris.

“We were already sorting through and figuring out things with about six or seven football players coming out and getting adjusted after their season,” Smith said. “So when Josh went down, suddenly everything flips and we have to make adjustments on the fly.”

The greatest change came following a Dec. 20 loss to Langley that dropped the Chargers to 2-5. Smith and his coaches revamped Chantilly’s defensive schemes in hopes of creating more turnovers and scoring opportunities to jumpstart an offense that was averaging just 46.6 points per game.

“We started making practices more competitive with scrimmaging and morphing the way we did things,” Smith said. “It was all about the big picture of wanting to play more guys and play with more pressure and intensity on defense.”

The results were immediate. Chantilly won the Glory Days Grill Tournament of Champions during the Christmas break before winning three of its last five games and hanging tough in losses to strong Herndon and Robinson teams.

Harris has particularly benefitted from Chantilly’s lineup and scheme changes. The senior sharpshooter has averaged 25.3 points in his last six games and knocked down 19 three-pointers.

“We know we aren’t the best offensive team, so we rely on playing hard defense and having that generate our offense,” Harris said. “After the tough start, we all bought into the changes and it resurrected our team.”

Junior guard Dylan Madawo has emerged as Chantilly’s second option while the likes of Mark Aanstoos and Matt Reed have stepped up at times on both ends of the floor to spark the Chargers as they enter the second round of Virginia Conference 5 play.

“I like the way we defend and how we can show different looks to opponents,” Smith said. “We’re still working on being more consistent with our execution on offense, but I’m extremely proud of our progress since that first game.”

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