South Lakes (23-6) did not win the Virginia AAA Liberty District tournament or Northern Region tournament. But its six losses came by a total of 21 points, the most lopsided of which was the eight-point setback against Edison in the region final, a game the Seahawks led by 17.
South Lakes will return four of its top five scorers and should enter next season as one of the region favorites, along with Edison, West Springfield and others.
“I definitely wouldn’t say it’s falling short, because I know a lot of people counted us out as soon as we went up against Mount Vernon,” South Lakes junior guard Caitlin Jensen said, referring to the Seahawks encountering region favorite Majors in the region quarterfinals. “We showed mental toughness throughout the whole tournament.
“The [district semifinal] loss to Madison was basically on a half-court shot. Most teams would have been done, but we came back and fought our way through regions.”
The Seahawks lost 55-53 to Stonewall Jackson in the state quarterfinals Friday. South Lakes shot 50 percent from the field, committed two fewer turnovers than the Raiders, just about broke even on the boards and led by one entering the fourth quarter but could not make enough late stops to regain the lead.
For just the second time in 10 years, the Northern Region did not qualify a team for the state semifinals, and neither of the finalists, Edison and South Lakes, featured a first-team all-region player.
The youth of Edison, with nine freshmen and sophomores, might have shown in the state quarterfinal loss to Colonial Forge. The Eagles were not able to overcome a 17-point hole like they had in the region final win over South Lakes.
“I didn’t see anybody really step up as a leader on the floor,” Edison Coach Dianne Lewis said. “It’s happened before and we know that. No one really said, ‘Come on guys, we can do this.’ They were hearing it from the bench from the coaches. But sometimes to have it from your peers I think is what we were missing. We live, we learn, we grow, we continue.”
“This is only the beginning,” said Edison freshman guard Jada Graves, who scored 17 of her 22 points in the first half of the quarterfinal. “We learned from what happened tonight. We’re going to continue to build and get better and come back stronger next season.”
The Eagles could have an easier path to a state final in 2014. Under the new Virginia High School League alignment, they will be playing in 5A North, with the smallest Northern Region schools and assorted schools from Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford counties and beyond. They would be paired in the state final against a similarly sized school from 5A South, which includes the Richmond and Virginia Beach areas.