Stonewall girls in new territory: Team takes on Lancaster in state quarterfinals
QUICKSBURG – The scouting reports are a little more in-depth. Media presence has become part of the daily routine. Many players who would otherwise be taking part in outdoor spring practices are instead still spending their after-school hours in the gymnasium. Indeed, the atmosphere at practice has been a little bit different for Stonewall Jackson High School’s girls basketball team this week.
The Generals, coming off their first regional tournament championship in 40 years, will make their first state tournament appearance in over a decade when they match up against Lancaster in the Virginia High School League Class 1 state tournament quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Saturday at Strasburg High School. The game was originally scheduled for Friday but was pushed back a day due to high winds that hammered the area.
None of the girls in Stonewall’s program have played a basketball game in March – the Generals won only three games just three years ago – and the fact that they are in the middle of a playoff run while the rest of their classmates have switched gears to spring sports has served as a point of pride and wonderment for at least a few of the players this week.
“Since we’re the only team still practicing and still moving on, it’s just a great feeling to have the gym,” Generals senior LuLu Funkhouser said after practice on Tuesday evening. “Like we have to kick people out of our locker room, we have to kick people out of the gym. Wow, it’s just amazing.”
Longtime head coach Jeff Burner, who last guided a Stonewall girls team to the state tournament in 2007, said he wants his players to enjoy the postseason experience. But at the same time he’s trying to balance that with a business-as-usual approach to each practice.
“We’re trying to keep our focus on we’re just gonna do what we do,” he said. “… We’re gonna stick to what we do. We’re gonna play man (defense), we’re gonna play the one offense that we run and we’re gonna try to do drills to make sure we’re doing those the best we can. We’re trying to keep that somewhat normal.”
The Generals (13-13), a “battle-tested” group according to Burner, have thrived since starting postseason play against fellow Class 1 competitors with the start of the Region 1B tournament last week. Stonewall, which plays most of its regular-season games against Class 2 competition as a member of the Shenandoah District, beat Rappahannock County and Riverheads in the regional quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, before topping Appomattox Regional Governor’s School, 48-35, in the Region 1B championship.
On Saturday, Stonewall gets a Lancaster (18-6) squad coming off a loss to Surry County in the Region 1A championship. The Red Devils led 16-11 at the half but ended up falling 45-29.
“They’re athletic, they move the ball and they got after it on defense. They were giving Surry the other night everything they wanted,” Burner, who attended the Region 1A championship game on Saturday, said of Lancaster. “They had like a 10-point lead on Surry and then Surry wore them down with their pressure and some different things. The game really looked a lot like our Riverheads game the other night. Surry was like 3 of 15 from the free throw line in the first half and was making all kinds of turnovers and then it just sort of turned. But we need to come play because they’re gonna show up and play hard.”
Lancaster, which started the season 12-0, enters the contest averaging 48.6 points per game behind leading scorers Skylar Sawyer and Skyler Henderson. The Red Devils scored 62 or more points in five of their first six games but failed to reach 50 points in 13 of their last 18.
Defensively, Lancaster is allowing only 35.1 ppg. Burner said the Red Devils showed a lot of aggressiveness going after rebounds in their loss to Surry County.
Stonewall, led by senior J.J. Dellinger (12.2 ppg in the regular season) and freshman point guard Kylene Franklin (9.8 ppg), is averaging 42.3 points per game and has won games with its stout man-to-man defense.
“Anywhere we go that’s been what we rely on the most,” Generals senior Sara Streett said. “We know we’re gonna have to play defense like we played on Friday (against ARGS). We’re just gonna have to talk on defense, communicate, make sure we’re all aware of who is where and if we need to give help, if we need to recover someone. I think that’s gonna help us go a long way.”
Funkhouser said she expects the state quarterfinal game, much like last week’s regional championship, to be a challenging stage for a group of Generals making their first state tournament appearance, but added that Stonewall showed last week that it has the ability to overcome those mental roadblocks.
Burner agreed that the Generals possess certain intangible qualities this season that are generating playoff success.
“Physical talent-wise as a group, it’s not a strong thing but there’s something special about them as a group. They sort of are greater than the sum of their parts when they play,” Burner said.
“It means something for them to put on a Stonewall girls basketball jersey,” he added. “It means something to them, so that’s important.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will take on the winner of the Surry County/ARGS quarterfinal matchup in the state semifinals next week. Should Stonewall win today, it would play at Strasburg again on Tuesday, Burner said.
The VHSL Class 1 state championship game will be held at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center on March 9.