W.T. Woodson’s march to the Virginia 6A state championship game started during the spring practice of 2016, senior guard Jason Aigner said.

The Cavaliers had the talent. Aigner could shoot the ball out of the gym. Matthew Urbach was a capable swingman. Simon Mulaa at point guard and Nate Spurlock in the post gave them an inside-outside game.

“It was there for us, if we wanted it,” Aigner said.

But maybe it started decades earlier. Before Saturday’s 45-43 triumph over Landstown (Virginia Beach), Woodson had never been to a state championship, even after trips to the state semifinal four of the last five seasons, after Red Jenkins turned this school into a basketball juggernaut over 34 years as head coach.

Now, the Cavaliers have punched their ticket to Richmond. 

(Brenton Randolph for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

“It’s a long time coming,” Coach Doug Craig said.

At the buzzer, he turned and ran down his bench, arms raised, screaming into the rafters at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax. Aigner ran from center court and jumped into an assistant coach’s arms, coating the assistant’s blazer in a sweaty glaze. 

Landstown was faster than Woodson — and stronger.

Sophomore guard Michael Christmas might be the most highly coveted underclassman public school recruit in the commonwealth.

Woodson (25-6) found a way to play through all that.

Mulaa slowed the game’s pace to a crawl at times. Aigner harassed Christmas into 5-for-17 shooting — “Sometimes it has to be a defensive game,” Craig said — and the Cavs found opportune times to strike.

Spurlock led Woodson with 12 rebounds, and the Cavaliers beat the Eagles on the boards 36-26.

He jousted with Christmas for a crucial defensive rebound with two minutes to play and passed to Urbach, who broke Landstown’s press and found Aigner, who has called wide-open three-pointers “layups” in the past, alone behind the arc.

Instead, he dribbled the ball out and ran time off the clock. 

HYLTON 71, WESTERN BRANCH 64: Few thought the Bulldogs would find a way to the 2017 Virginia 6A state final, least of all Coach Barry Smith. Hylton lost 10 seniors from a year ago. Smith thought they would fight to win their region.

Then senior forward Dwayne Hill led the Bulldogs through the first two rounds of the state tournament.

They’re headed to Richmond now after knocking off Western Branch (Chesapeake) at Robinson.

Hill scored a team-high 30 points. Hylton (21-9) took a 10-point lead in the first quarter and never again fell behind.