The Washington Post

After three-peat, new-look Madison is back again


As Madison junior Stella Gougoufkas grabbed the ball with one second remaining in Monday’s 34-24 state semifinal win over Robinson, senior Kayla Dixon held out an arm, motioning for her teammate to stop in her tracks. As had become customary over the past four seasons, there was no reason to panic at the precipice of a state title game appearance.

Gougoufkas almost immediatel­y processed her teammate’s unspoken plea. She took one step forward and pounded the ball on the floor as Dixon nodded confidentl­y.

Despite the graduation of eight seniors, including all five starters and All-met first-team twins Grace and Alayna Arnolie, the Warhawks (24-4) have made it back to the state title game and will look to complete a four-peat when they face Manchester in the Class 6 final at 6 p.m. Friday at VCU’S Siegel Center in Richmond.

Internally, there was never a doubt. So much so that Dixon, at times, could hardly identify a difference between this season and last.

“I think it was just as special as any of the other seasons,” Dixon said. “I don’t know. I didn’t feel a big difference.”

Madison Coach Kirsten Stone felt similarly. But she knew, at least externally, there was doubt.

“I don’t think many people [thought we would be here],” Stone said, laughing. “It was our little secret.”

Behind their confidence was a sound plan. Most returners were coming off two-plus years of practice reps against some of the best players in the state, and the junior varsity players had at least a year on a roster that similarly went nearly undefeated.

And in a region where coaches often lean on defense, no unit is more cohesive in March than Madison’s. Since the start of February, opponents are averaging 28.4 points against the Warhawks.

When the Warhawks reached the locker room after Monday’s game and started drumming on the lockers, Dixon heard a voice break out.

“We’re going to states, baby!” a teammate yelled.

Finally, even those most familiar with a state title trip broke into pandemoniu­m.

Hurt Yergey leads Brentsvill­e Most days, Brentsvill­e District senior Alden Yergey walks with a limp in the hallways. There are days when she can’t run. Every night, she sticks her foot in a bucket of ice. After averaging close to 30 points per game over the past two campaigns, she was down to the low 20s this season.

“It hurts,” Yergey said of her foot, which she injured from overuse in August and has flared up since the season’s onset. “I mean, it hurts a lot.”

But, she said, for a trip to VCU, the pain was worth it “a thousand times out of a thousand.” And on Monday, the Tigers (21- 6) achieved just that trip, defeating Meridian, 46-41, in the Class 3 state semifinals.

“I will remember this game forever,” Yergey said.

The Tigers will play Carroll County at 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Before the season, first-year coach Keyla Delaney sat all of the players down and told them to believe in her vision. With it, the Tigers could make it to the state championsh­ip game.

“Some of them, their eyes got big, since Brentsvill­e — we’ve made it to a state quarterfin­al, but we’ve never gotten over that hurdle,” Delaney said.

In spurts, they struggled to adjust. But that labor, Yergey said, was necessary. Over the season, a hodgepodge became a unified front.

But Meridian — the Tigers’ in-district rival, against whom Yergey was 0-11 since her freshman year — would present a tougher challenge. Always, it seemed, there was a mental snag.

“When you said ‘Meridian’ around our team before this season, everyone would kind of quiver,” Yergey said. “But we were so confident and prepared, we got over that mental block.”

On Monday, the Tigers erased a halftime deficit to take a threepoint lead as Yergey was fouled with one second left. As she knocked down the first free throw to extend her team’s lead to four, she turned to her left.

She noticed everyone, from family members to her elementary school teachers, begin to rise. Her teammates began to hug one another. She soaked it in for another second, then turned back toward the hoop and converted the final free throw.

Hayfield nears a repeat

Plenty has been said about the pressure the Hayfield boys have felt to repeat as champions after last season’s 32- 0 finish.

On Monday, they looked the part of an experience­d team in a 71-59 victory over South Lakes. As it often does, success started with the Hawks’ 6-2 center, senior David King, who finished with 28 points.

“I don’t know how teams still don’t take him seriously,” Hayfield Coach Carlos Poindexter said. “He’s a special player.”

The Hawks (28-1) will play Patriot in the Class 6 final at 8 p.m. Friday. The Pioneers (27-3) topped Oscar Smith on Monday.

It will be a rematch of a memorable season opener that Hayfield won, 75-73.

“This is what everybody wanted last year when both of us were undefeated [heading into the state semifinals],” Poindexter said. “I’m glad Patriot held up their end of the bargain.”

This season, Hayfield is relying on an even deeper core. DJ Holloway, the National District player of the year, was once an afterthoug­ht on opponents’ scouting reports but now is the Hawks’ top offensive and defensive player. Greg Jones, an AllMet first-team player last season, has persisted through a back injury and remains dynamic in nearly all facets of the game.

Juniors Andy Ramirez and Owen Pottenburg­h, as well as seniors John Awoke and Braelen Cage, provide the role player spark that often ignites the Hawks.

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