DALE CITY — They were big and athletic, a combination that has been virtually unbeatable all season.
The George Washington girls basketball team certainly looked imposing Wednesday night. Right up until tipoff.
After that, the Western Valley District champions hardly resembled a squad that won 23 consecutive games against Virginia teams.
Blame that on Forest Park.
The Bruins (24-2) made another talented team appear to be little more than ordinary in the semifinals of the Northwest Region Tournament. Relying once again on the trapping, full-court pressure that has become their trademark, the Bruins burst out to a 13-point first-quarter lead and glided to a 49-35 home-court victory.
“We’d heard they were a very, very good team, but our coaches do a good job preparing us for every game,” Forest Park junior center Brenan Richards said. “We had some idea of their tendencies and that it was important for our post players to play good defense.”
The Bruins’ interior defense was as menacing as their press. They shut Western Valley District player of the year Sierra Cooper out in the first half and held her to eight points overall — less than half her season average. Forward Tavia Clemendor didn’t fare much better. She led the Eagles with 10 points and 16 rebounds.
That wasn’t nearly enough to offset another tremendous team effort by Forest Park.
“It’s tough when you come up against a team like that,” Forest Park coach Chrissy Kelly said. “You have to be disciplined.”
The Bruins have made school history this year by being disciplined and unselfish.
In a season filled with previously unchartered milestones, they came up with a couple more program firsts: They advanced to tonight’s 7 o’clock regional championship game against rival Woodbridge at Hylton and qualified for the Group AAA state tournament.
They did it with double-figure scoring efforts from freshmen Ashleigh Braxton (13 points) and Monica Wright (12 points, 9 rebounds) and another big game from junior DeCarol Davis, who had 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists.
“This year has been a lot of firsts for us,” Richards said, referring to the Bruins’ landmark win over Woodbridge on Jan. 10, the Cardinal District regular season and tournament championships and the program’s first regional triumph against Albemarle.
“Going to states is a wonderful reward for our work. The past two years we lost in the first round of the district tournament,” she said. “It’s a new experience and it’s exciting for the whole team. We have that hunger. We want to go as far as we can.”
The Bruins have already exceeded their modest preseason goals, which according to coach Kelly were, “to eliminate as many mistakes as possible and have our defense win games for us.”
Kelly thought if the Bruins could do those two things they might contend for a Cardinal District championship. Now, they have something even bigger on the horizon.
While last year’s state finalists — Princess Anne and West Springfield — have both been eliminated from postseason play, Forest Park has an opportunity to make even more history.
Just 24 hours after West Springfield lost to Chantilly in a Northern Region semifinal, the Bruins prevented any chance for an upset last night. Whitney French and Braxton hit first-quarter 3-pointers and the defense forced George Washington (23-2) to commit backcourt and 10-second violations in the first two minutes.
A pair of Eagles timeouts only delayed the inevitable.
By the time Braxton drilled her third 3-pointer, it was 24-6 — a lead Forest Park extended to 36-12 by halftime.
“They are an amazing group of girls,” Kelly said. “It’s for them. They’re the ones who come in six days a week and work their tails off. The way they go after the ball you’d almost think it was candy.”