By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Central girls basketball coach Mallory Skarupa made all the right moves this season leading Central to its first state berth since 1996. Now that the season is over she has to work on getting down a few new dance moves.
Skarupa promised the team she would do Napoleon Dynamite's dance to the song "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai from the movie "Napoleon Dynamite" if the Falcons won the Conference 28 title. The Conference 28 title was just one of Central's many accomplishments this season, and Skarupa said she's working on getting the dance moves down.
It was just one example of how Skarupa had fun with her team this season, while also making sure she got the most out of her squad.
"We have fun," Skarupa said. "It's interesting switching those roles. To go from teacher, to coach, to mentor, to friend. It's sort of like I'm an older sister or an aunt sometimes, because they're teenage girls and teenage girls have teenage girl things."
"Coach Skarupa does do an amazing job at having that personality, where on the court it's all seriousness, but when you're off if you need anything she would be there in a second with you -- no doubt," Central senior Katelyn Poston said.
Skarupa led the Falcons to a 19-10 record and to the state semifinals, which helped earn her The Northern Virginia Daily's 2013-14 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
The Falcons didn't start off quite the way they wanted to, finishing fourth in the Bull Run District, but then everything clicked for the team when it mattered the most.
"We definitely had quite a run," Skarupa said. "I think we surprised a lot of people, surprised ourselves a little bit. It's so nice to kind of tap into our potential that we knew could happen. We knew Murph [Phillips] could have a big night. We knew Mary [Wakeman] could step up and be a leader. We knew Pip [Truban] could do some things on defense and then KP [Poston] just being that constant sort of stream of offense for us. And having her just open up emotionally as the emotional leader going into the postseason was fabulous. So I am a happy camper."
Skarupa said she started to realize something special was happening when the Falcons beat Loudoun Valley in the Conference 28 final, sticking together and to the game plan in a hard fought contest.
The Falcons' run ended with a loss to eventual Class 3A state champion Spotswood, but one of the biggest things the team accomplished was playing together as a team at the end of the season.
Skarupa said the team's four seniors: Poston, Sydney Plum, Truban and Wakeman had a lot to do with the postseason success.
"They were our rock, and they were that constant voice of, 'We could do this. Let's do this. We need to do this together,'" Skarupa said. "They really bought into what we've been preaching and what we've been hammering. We always say play hard, play smart, play together and they really made the later portion of that mantra true and lived it out the last few weeks."
Skarupa graduated from North Allegheny High School in Wexford, Pa., where she said she was part of a graduating class of 750. Skarupa said her high school coach Paul Seneca, assistant coach Jill Spak and one of her Amateur Athletic Union coaches, Jim Dudas, were all big coaching influences on her.
She even took a little something from Spak. To go along with the motto "play hard, play smart and play together," Skarupa would come up with a little speech before the big road games and hand out candy to go with it. There was Smarties for play smart, Jolly Ranchers as the hard candy for play hard and gum to represent sticking together.
"She was an inspiring person," Skarupa said of Spak.
This was Skarupa's second year as head coach at Central, and she said she couldn't have been successful without the help of assistant coach and Central graduate Sarah DiNardo, who was on the Falcons' only state championship team in 1996.
"Sarah is fabulous. I love Sarah. Sarah is probably my best friend down here," Skarupa said. "Her family and everyone has kind of adopted me as their own child. I love Sarah because she's just brimming with passion for the game. She knows how the sport should be played, and how it should be done. And we see eye to eye on a lot of those things."
Now that the Falcons have had that taste of success in the postseason, Skarupa and her team will look to keep it going. Skarupa said boys basketball coach Brandon Shields and her ran their first camp together last summer, and she's hoping to get more and more younger kids interested in basketball.
There's no question that Skarupa has the program on the rise, but can she pull off the moves to the almost-five minute Napoleon Dynamite dance? Her players have plenty of faith in her.
"I think she can do it," Poston said with a laugh. "She has the lanky body, kind of awkward thing going on -- I think she'll be fine."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd