There were plenty of tears shed at James Madison University as Central's girls basketball season came to a disappointing end. However, there was also much to be proud of.
The Falcons entered the game as the underdogs against a really strong and balanced Spotswood squad. The Trailblazers haven't lost a game to a public school team in two seasons.
Central was right there with them throughout the first period and part of the second, going toe-to-toe with the defending state champs.
Each season there's only one team that will win it all in each classification in each sport. There's no shame in losing, and the Falcons certainly earned some respect as they took on the Trailblazers.
The Falcons didn't give up, even after falling behind by as many as 32 points. Central closed the game with class, and certainly earned the respect of Spotswood coach Chris Dodson.
"Hats off to Central," Dodson said. "They play basketball the right way. They don't beat theirselves a lot. They make you do something to beat them. They play a physical brand of basketball, and they get after it.
"I was impressed by them."
Certainly at the start of the postseason the Falcons weren't playing like a team that would advance to the state semifinals. Central lost to Strasburg in the Bull Run District tournament, and something finally clicked with the entire team.
The Falcons began to play their best basketball when it counted the most.
They won the Conference 28 title, knocking off John Champe and Loudoun Valley, both of whom they had lost to earlier in the season.
The Falcons then beat James Monroe and rallied for a thrilling win over John Marshall in overtime for a state semifinal berth.
The state berth was the first for the Falcons since the program won the Group A state title in 1996.
A big part of the Falcons' success starts with seniors Katelyn Poston, the school's all-time leading scorer, Sydney Plum, Rebecca Truban and Mary Wakeman.
The quartet helped lead the younger players to new heights.
Even though the outcome wasn't what the team wanted, Central coach Mallory Skarupa was very proud of her team.
"Definitely played our hearts out," Skarupa said. "Super proud of our girls, and the fight that we had especially at the end. We're proud of everything we've accomplished this season, but again if we want to reach that next level you need to go through teams like Spotswood and they are a true team in every sense of the word. [Dodson's] got a great program over there. Everyone's fundamentally sound, and man did they shoot the ball well today."
Central may not be where Spotswood is as a program, but the Falcons are certainly going in the right direction. Central had a very strong JV squad this past season, and have three freshman and three sophomores on this year's varsity team.
Freshman Tamra Scott certainly showed that she will be a key piece for the Falcons over the next few years.
Dodson was definitely impressed by her game against the Blazers, which included a career-high 22 points and 19 rebounds.
"She played tremendous, much better than what we had seen on film," Dodson said. "I was very impressed with her. We know Katelyn's [Poston] a player. Wakeman, we did a nice job of defending her, but [Scott] was tremendous. She plays hard. She plays physical."
While the future is bright for the Falcons, this season could be the year that will be remembered as the one that started the program to new heights.
There's no question it's one the team won't soon forget, especially the seniors.
"It's been the most memorable season," Poston said. " I'm definitely going to remember this one before any other ones we've had. Not only because we made it to the state semifinals, but because the group that I got to play with. We're a really close group. We had so much fun together on and off the court, and in practices just working hard together. I just think everything clicked for us so well."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd