HARRISONBURG – Even Spotswood High School coach Chris Dodson gets nervous about the big game.
Taking a fourth girls’ basketball team to Richmond for a state-title game doesn’t make him immune to such emotions. Dodson even sent out a tweet Monday afternoon asking for advice against junk defenses – specifically how to beat the box-and-one and triangle-and-two – which Broadway has not used in four games against SHS this season.
“We worked against everything,” Dodson said by phone Wednesday afternoon from Richmond.
As for being nervous after watching hours of film?
“Yeah, it’s inevitable,” Dodson said. “… You’re sleeping and you roll over and your night’s done. You start running things through in your head. You take notes, running plays through your head wondering what little tweaks [you can make].”
Over-thinking, he said, comes with the territory with so much time between Saturday’s 3A state semifinal win over Central-Woodstock and today’s championship game against Broadway at noon at VCU’s Siegel Center. Ultimately, Dodson said there would be two teams that know each other well – with little or no tweaking needed.
And though the Trailblazers (26-1) are 4-0 against BHS (22-5), the Gobblers aren’t buying the underdog role.
They believe they are primed to win a state title in their first championship game appearance.
“We know their game and I think [we] really want to beat them,” said Ally Repko, one of two freshmen playing for BHS. “We don’t want to lose for a fifth time. I think we will beat them.”
If the Gobblers are going to do that, BHS senior forward Brianna Zook said they have to minimize turnovers and get key contributions from underclassmen such as freshman forward Faith Funkhouser, who has averaged eight points per game in four meetings with SHS.
Since beating Huguenot 52-36 last Thursday at the Siegel Center, the Gobblers have ridden a wave of emotions.
“We could relax after the game,” Repko said of the team’s mood, “but Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday have been pretty tight, so that we could execute all our plays and know our defenses.”
Broadway’s 63-44 defeat in the Conference 29 championship was the most lopsided against SHS, but it was also the most eye-opening, as the Gobblers played arguably their best game. It was a game in which star forward Tayler Dodson got into foul trouble, but the Blazers were still able to put together a run in the middle quarters to win.
“In that game, Tayler had like four fouls and we got a little overly excited on that and didn’t take advantage of that,” said Zook, who has averaged a team-best 13.8 points against Spotswood. “When they make mistakes, we need to take advantage of those mistakes and not get overly excited. We learned a lot from that game, because we know we can beat them.”
Dodson has made it especially difficult on the Gobblers.
The Region 3A West Player of the Year has tallied 21 points and 10.9 rebounds per game overall this season, while averaging 21.8 points against Broadway. Dodson has been scary consistent in scoring 21 points in three of the four meetings, including both playoff contests. Plus, the George Mason-bound 6-footer is coming off a stat-stuffing performance in Saturday’s 75-52 victory over Central that included 17 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, five steals and two blocks.
“Defensively, you’ve got to be really good,” said BHS coach Bobby Mongold, who noted that junk defenses are virtually useless against Spotswood’s deep, talented roster. “You’ve got to find matchups and put certain people in spots. You just have to be aware. It’s constant awareness of where they’re at and where the ball is. You can’t take any breaks. I don’t know that there’s any secret recipe because only one team has beat them this year.”
That team, The Miller School, has already claimed the VISAA Division 2 state title.
The Blazers are 2-2 all-time in state championship games. Chris Dodson’s wife – known as Tracy Hodges back then – played for Spotswood’s first team to reach the state final in 1986. Twenty-eight years later, Dodson’s daughter is trying to help lead SHS to back-to-back state titles.
“I grew up around the state tournament, so I really respect what the state tournament is,” Chris Dodson said. “It’s not just another game. It doesn’t matter how many times you get there, it’s still special.”
Dodson said in past games against Valley District rival Broadway – which has a post-oriented offense fueled by Zook and Funkhouser – senior Nikki Lam allowed SHS to go small with a four-guard lineup and Dodson drawing attention in the paint. That’s because Lam can morph from shooting guard to small forward in a snap.
The guard-heavy lineup, which Mongold expects to see, was essentially the game plan in Spotswood’s win Saturday at the Convocation Center. The result? Juniors Elizabeth Dofflemyer and McKenzie Jenkins and Lam combining to shoot 17-for-23 (74 percent) for 48 points, including 8-for-11 (73 percent) from 3-point range. Dofflemyer led SHS with a season-high 26 points.
Of course, experience in the state final helps – and the Blazers appear fairly loose.
“We’re really excited,” Lam said. “It was a lot of fun last year. We plan on making it a lot of fun this year, too.”
When they piled into a bus Wednesday, they took their trusty speaker, team music and wanna-have-fun personalities. The team even chose chick-flick movie titles they could watch and sing along to.
Coach Dodson said he went to sleep.
Maybe to catch up on his Z’s after a long week of preparation.