I can remember watching Central's girls basketball team two years ago and thinking this team has a chance to do special things in the next few years.
The Falcons lost in the Region B semifinals that year to eventual Group A champion, George Mason, in a game that was close after a slow start for the Falcons. Central had a young team, led by a solid group of sophomores.
Going into this season, powerhouse programs East Rockingham and George Mason had each lost one regular season district game in the last three years -- both were to Central.
Last year didn't go as the Falcons would have liked, and earlier this season it looked like they might not fulfill their promise again this season.
In the last two weeks, it's safe to say the Falcons have finally arrived and are reaching their full potential.
Central advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals on Wednesday night with a gutty 49-45 overtime victory over John Marshall. They play Huguenot tonight in the 3A East regional final, and win or lose will play at JMU next week against either Spotswood or Broadway.
The Falcons had a solid regular season, but struggled putting everything together.
Now it's like they're a different team, and maybe one of the biggest keys is they are playing together, playing as a team and playing for each other.
"This has been the most united team that I've even been on," Central senior Mary Wakeman said. "It's great to go this far, when everybody's doubted us, with a group of girls who I find as like family to me."
A perfect example of the bond the players have came in the final seconds of their win over John Marshall. Central senior Katelyn Poston noticed that freshman Tamra Scott was upset, and went over to her to calm her down. Due to a technical foul, Central was going to get two free throws and a chance to tie the game in the final seconds of regulation.
"[Poston] said 'don't get your head down, we got a technical, I'm going to knock these free throws down for you and we're just going to get back in it,'" Scott said of the conversation. "That got me back up, and I was praying that she made them and we just kept getting up the momentum. It helped me get back up and keep playing."
It's that kind of togetherness that has helped the Falcons play their best basketball of the season. So often it's easy to forget that basketball is a team sport, and it's amazing what a team can accomplish when they play together.
As long as the Falcons keep playing together there's no question they can accomplish anything in the state tournament.
Part of playing together, comes from simply doing your job, no matter what that responsibility is.
Poston is the school's all-time leading scorer and does many things for the team, but she certainly has plenty of help. One thing I've always liked about this team is how many solid role players they have.
Seniors Wakeman, Rebecca Truban or Sydney Plum constantly do lots of the little things that may go unnoticed in the box score, whether it's a rebound, a steal or playing solid all-around defense. There are plenty of younger players on the squad, who also fill their roles well, and everybody seems fine doing whatever it takes to help the team win.
That was the case again on Wednesday, and Central coach Mallory Skarupa said she told the players to be ready to give whatever they had no matter how much playing time they got.
"I said you might get 10 seconds, you might 30 seconds, you might get 30 minutes, it doesn't matter," Skarupa said. "Go out and give everything you have for however long you're in there."
And the players certainly did that.
Central is in the state tournament for the first time since 1996, when the Falcons won the Group A state title. Central assistant coach Sarah DiNardo-Swartz was one of the top players on that squad. This year's team is motivated to be just like her.
"I haven't been to states before, so this is a completely new feeling," Plum said. "Coach DiNardo -- we all just wanted to be like her and go to states. And so it feels great to share the same type of bond with her."
The Falcons are excited about the opportunity to play at JMU next week, but they are also aware they have to stay grounded and remember what has gotten them this far.
"That's going to be a big feeling," Plum said of playing at JMU. "But, we just have to be a family, and like we always say 'fly as one.'"
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd