By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- The police escort into town was a nice touch, and Central High School girls basketball coach Mallory Skarupa's impromptu emcee session via the school bus intercom system was off the chain on Wednesday night.
The Falcons had plenty to celebrate about heading back into town late that night after pulling off a thrilling 49-45 overtime victory against John Marshall in the 3A East semifinals played at Kettle Run High School in Nokesville. The victory meant Central had just punched its ticket to next week's state tournament at James Madison University's Convocation Center, Central's first state tournament trip since winning it all back in 1997.
After two straight elimination games -- three of the last four, really -- the Falcons had every right to breathe easy as a string of police cars guided their bus into town and Skarupa rattled off each players' name over the microphone and into the cold night air.
On Thursday, though, the party was just a dim memory. Central was back at work in practice, all business, as they prepared for today's 3A East championship game against Huguenot.
"The pressure is never completely off," Central sophomore forward Meredith Phillips said. "This game isn't you lose, you're done. We're still going to states, regardless, but we still want to win this game."
Central (19-8) faces another tough task to sustain the tremendous momentum built up so far in the postseason. Back on their home floor in Woodstock for tonight's 6:30 p.m. game, the Falcons will face another set of Falcons -- Huguenot -- equally determined to keep that winning edge as they, too, get ready for next week's state tournament.
Huguenot (17-8), out of Richmond, in some ways reminds Skarupa of her own team. Like Central with star point guard Katelyn Poston, Huguenot has a true go-to scorer in freshman guard Taya Robinson. The 5-foot-10 Robinson has already received multiple scholarship offers. She's averaging 22 points a game this season.
"From everything I've heard, she's the best ball handler and the best driver that most people have seen in a while," Skarupa said. "She's 5-10, so she's a matchup problem for us. [Poston] has guarded Stephanie Cheney [6-0] before out of George Mason so she can do it. It's just a matter of keeping her out of foul trouble."
Skarupa plans to use several players to try and slow Robinson, but that's not the only danger Huguenot presents. Sophomore point guard Kera Jackson is a first-rate distributor and another solid scorer, and 6-0 junior Destyni Sheed a reliable producer in the post.
Central counters with the explosive Poston -- the school's all-time leading scorer -- and a supporting cast that has continued to improve right on through the postseason.
"We don't want to lose momentum," Skarupa said. "We've made some huge strides these last couple weeks. We don't want to regress into any bad habits."
Central senior guard Rebecca Truban, who figures to spend much of her time hounding Huguenot's talented backcourt, wants to pick up one final win on her home court before taking that short trip up to Harrisonburg for next Tuesday's state semifinal game against either Spotswood or Broadway.
"It was so exciting to have all the fans' support," Truban said. "It means a lot to us, and it motivates us. We definitely still are shooting to win this game. We want to make it as far as we can get."
Skarupa expects the gym to be rocking for tonight's game.
"Hopefully the crowd will energize us and give us the boost we need," Skarupa said. "I'm expecting the atmosphere to be absolutely electric."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>