Their final test fits the grueling nature of this season: They must take down Centreville, the 2020 co-champion, in the Wildcats’ home gym Saturday night.
The six Northern Virginia teams still standing all faced their own challenges this season. Madison’s girls’ team was about 48 hours from a state championship in March when the coronavirus pandemic halted the season. Centreville had games postponed early in the season, as did Osbourn Park, Madison’s opponent in Class 6, and George Mason, which will play at Spotswood for the Class 3 girls’ title Saturday.
(all games Saturday at 7 p.m.)
Green Run at Stone Bridge
George Mason at Spotswood
Stone Bridge will host Green Run for its first appearance in the Class 5 boys’ final Saturday. The Bulldogs rallied in the final minute to beat Patrick Henry on Wednesday — and then boarded their bus again for the four-hour trip back to Ashburn, arriving around 1 a.m.
This season — delayed, condensed and replete with masks and social distancing — was always going to be different. When he first gathered his players, Honore assured them they would face adversity: “I don’t know what it’s going to be,” he said, “but it’s coming.”
In comparison, Potomac’s 2014 title run, in which the Panthers lost a stunner to Wakefield in the regional final and then had to play a semifinal against Maury in Norfolk, almost seems quaint.
“We’ve definitely beaten the odds this year,” senior guard Kejahn Rainey said. “We’ve definitely done things that people didn’t expect us to do, with the undefeated season and making it so far. Now it’s our opportunity to shock the world.”
Potomac won its third state championship in 2016 and has inched back toward the finals since then, falling to Western Branch in last year’s state quarterfinals. The Panthers returned all of the essential pieces for a title run this season, most notably eight seniors. But when they returned to the court for a brief fall schedule at the St. James in Springfield, their performance was “disastrous,” Honore said. Potomac went 3-5 in eight games.
As the pandemic scuttled all team activities, many players worked only on individual drills. When they rejoined the team, they played as such, resorting to disjointed, incoherent basketball. Rainey said the players looked as if they were playing five separate games of one-on-one
The Potomac team that took the floor Wednesday was a bonded unit, one that rushed to a 12-4 lead early. The Panthers withstood a late rally by Landstown, surviving 43 points by star guard Donald Hand Jr.
With just a couple of days left in this season, Honore on Thursday repeated his lesson from seven years ago: Championships aren’t easy.
“Mentally, our kids were prepared for something,” Honore said. “We didn’t know what, but we were prepared that if we were fortunate enough to make a run and we were fortunate enough to get this far, we were going to deal with adversity.”
And as for how his team dealt with it, Honore said two days early, “Our kids have been champions.