Outsider’s perspective (by Kevin Trudgeon): And then there were 3
The road to Richmond may have technically started way back on Nov. 26, but things will really begin to get interesting now.
After two months of regular season play, a week of district tournaments and another week of region tournaments, we’ve gone from 10 teams vying for a Virginia High School League state championship to just three.
The Handley and Millbrook boys and the Clarke County girls are the only ones still standing as the state quarterfinals get underway this week, and three games are all that separate them from a title.
But with the Millbrook girls’ dynasty having come to an end, the question has to be asked: do any of our teams really have a shot at bringing home the trophy?
On paper all three could run into massive obstacles at some point over the next week.
For the Handley boys a rematch with a Spotswood team that beat them on their homecourt back in December possibly awaits in the semifinals.
And then of course there’s two-time defending state champion Brunswick — which beat the Judges by 25 in the state quarterfinals last year — on the other side of the Group AA, Division 3 bracket, who will more than likely be waiting in the finals should the Judges get there.
The Clarke County girls face a similar predicament.
The Eagles drew a favorable draw, getting placed on the opposite side of the Group A, Division 2 bracket from George Mason and Floyd County, who many feel are the top two teams in the division.
But while Clarke County may have an easier path of getting to the finals, odds are they will eventually have to play either George Mason, a team that’s already beaten them four times this season, or a Floyd County team that will probably have had to beat those same Mustangs to get there.
The Millbrook boys will likely face their own adversity much sooner than the other two.
Group AA, Division 4 quarterfinal opponent Grafton is not only the Region I champion, but also a team Pioneer coach Scott Mankins believes is the best in the division.
The counterargument of course is that if the Pioneers can beat the team that’s perceived to be the best in the bracket they can beat anyone, but that’s easier said than done.
So is all this proof that we’re not going to have a VHSL basketball state champion for just the second time in the last eight years and for the first time since 2009?
Neither the Judges, the Pioneers or the Eagles can call themselves the favorite in their respective brackets, but if sports have taught us anything over the years it’s that anything can happen in a single-elimination tournament.
If the supposed “best team” always won the New England Patriots would have a few more Super Bowls, the New York Yankees would have a few more World Series and we wouldn’t even have to play the games anymore.
Thankfully that’s not the case.
Upsets happen in sports. Hot streaks happen in sports. Teams of destiny happen in sports.
As the No. 7 seed Millbrook wasn’t even supposed to win a game in the region tournament, yet it held a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of the title game against Potomac Falls.
Handley had to go on the road and beat higher-seeded Western Albemarle and Loudoun Valley in hostile environments and Clarke County’s got more than enough motivation to want to play George Mason again and make it fifth time’s the charm.
A betting man may not pick any of our local teams, but he also probably wouldn’t have picked them to have reached this point to begin with.
Three months of play has boiled down to three teams with three games standing between them and the ultimate prize.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what happens.
— Kevin Trudgeon is the sports editor at The Winchester Star