By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- George Amos is tempted to daydream, he can't deny it.
The longtime Randolph-Macon Academy girls basketball coach can envision a banner season next year, since the Yellow Jackets won't be losing a single player to graduation and a trio of three-year starters will be on the court.
Then again, Amos doesn't really have much time to dawdle on R-MA's positive prospects for next year. He has a team to coach right now, and it's accomplishing all he could hope for in any season.
The Yellow Jackets are off to the best start in school history, sporting a 9-0 record heading into today's rematch against Delaney Athletic Conference rival Fredericksburg Academy. A first-ever conference championship is a real possibility, and perhaps even a rare trip to the state tournament beyond that.
"It's just worked," Amos said. "The good thing is, they all come back next year. So the future looks bright, but then again this year looks bright right now, too."
A solid nucleus built around those three returning starters -- juniors Cara-Elizabeth Brown, Kalie Plasier and Erin Dullahan -- has helped R-MA overcome the added burden of extended holiday layoffs and thrive despite the rigorous academic environment plus the added duties inherent in attending a military school.
"The military program does add some things to their daily routine, plus it's a college-preparatory school so my juniors are in AP classes and most of my freshmen and sophomores are in honors classes," Amos said. "It's a strenuous college academic program, plus the military program, plus just dorm life in itself adds a whole 'nother [dimension].
"And then there's athletics. Playing a lot of games is tough, but winning just makes everything a little easier."
Five states are represented on the Yellow Jackets' 12-player roster, and the paths they took to arrive at R-MA vary just as much as that geography.
Brown, a Front Royal resident and one of the team's day-school players, gained exposure to R-MA when her brother decided to attend.
"I just kind of followed him," said Brown, who averages 8.8 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game. "I got to choose whether to come here or go to a public school, and I just came here because I like coach Amos. I don't know why."
Plasier represents the other spectrum on R-MA's roster. A boarding student from Sioux City, Iowa, Plasier found R-MA on the Internet when she was looking for a school to help her get into the United States Air Force Academy.
"I typed in Air Force prep school, and R-MA was the first one that came up on Google search," Plasier said. "So I applied and then somehow talked my mom into letting me come."
Plasier, averaging 10 points and six rebounds per game, said sports has helped make the academic workload a bit easier. Plasier and Brown are the team's co-captains, a role they also shared under Amos during the volleyball season when the Yellow Jackets reached the DAC tournament championship match before falling in five sets.
"I do a lot -- I have a leadership position within the corps and I pretty much have straight A's," Plasier said. "So I work really hard, and it's really nice to just come here and just play and have fun."
R-MA's season could have been in serious jeopardy early after starting point guard Shawna Jameson went down for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but freshman Anastasia Voellm shifted into the role and has led the team with 10.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists this season.
A Division II member of the DAC, the Yellow Jackets have already posted wins this season against Division I (upper) opponent Foxcroft School, public school Rappahannock County and then knocked off two-time defending DAC Division II champions Fredericksburg Academy by a point (27-26) last week. Voellm had 13 points, eight rebounds and nine steals in the win. But the close score, a trend for R-MA this season, has Amos cautioning his squad about getting overconfident.
"I think it's going to be competitive," Amos said. "No one's going to run away with it. We're excited about our start, but then you have to be careful about how excited you are. That's why I keep pushing them. There's always room for improvement."
The success has helped R-MA gain a No. 8 state ranking in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association girls basketball poll. The VISAA state tournament is an invitational format featuring the top 12-ranked schools in each division. Based on increased enrollment, R-MA moved up a classification to Division II this year. The Yellow Jackets last made the state tournament in 2004 as a Division III member, and Amos would love to lead his team to the state semifinals in March at Benedictine School in Richmond.
"It's just a good group of kids," Amos said. "For the most part, they know how to keep their struggles off the court. When they come in, basketball's kind of a release for them. Being successful, they're kind of focused and they want to maintain that focus."
First things first -- a DAC championship is what Plasier and her teammates covet right now.
"We're looking forward to winning the conference title," Plasier said. "We kind of want a girls banner up in the gym."