The boys of Loudoun put a sweet finishing touch on the winter hoops season, out-starring their counterparts from two counties away in the fourth annual NoVA Challenge.
Final score –
Loudoun 27 38 38 27 = 130
Arlington 29 31 38 30 = 128
Loudoun’s all-stars –
Points: Dominik Fragala (JC) 25, Tyler Karol (LC) 16, Nick Ball (LV) 12, David Walls (PF) 12, Chris Chapman (Her) 10, Anthony Cooper (BR) 10, Mike Elliott (Dom) 10, Brian Sweeney (PF) 19, Duron Norris (LV) 7, Blake Blalock (RR) 6, Tique Yarbrough (Tusc) 6, Zachery Garrett (Her) 2
Three-pointers: Fragala 5, Ball 2, Blalock 2, Cooper 2, Elliott 2, Sweeney 2, Karol 1, Norris 1
Most Outstanding Player: Dominik Fragala
Riverside High School, Leesburg, Va. (March 19, 2017) — Good one to end on.
No. Great one to end on.
It was a heck of a winter on the hardcourt for boys’ hoops.
After years of knocking on the door, the Loudoun Valley Vikings finally busted it down, methodically disposing opponents through an intense 31-game schedule culminating in the old school’s first ever state championship.
To boot, the Potomac Falls Panthers rattled some cages, clawing out 13 straight late-season wins and the conference’s best hardware. The Stone Bridge Bulldogs found a path to regionals through a knockout upset of rival Broad Run. In a resurgent campaign, the Freedom Eagles soared to 19 wins, a conference title and a region berth. The Heritage Pride pulled off an exceptionally strong season, dealing the eventual state champs their sole loss while winning 20 games themselves.
To honorably mention, Champe, Rock Ridge and Tuscarora turned in positive program-building seasons of respectively 14, 14 and 16 wins.
But then on the eve of spring there came the winter’s grand finale, when the young male hoopsters of the county of Loudoun announced their hardcourt authority across the region.
In thrilling fashion before a pro-Loudoun crowd inside the county’s newest high school gymnasium, the Loudouners emerged triumphant and jubilant in a like-a-real-game, nip-and-tuck, wanna-win-it, coaches-even-called-timeouts-if-you-can-believe-that showdown versus Arlington/Alexandria in the seniors-only all-star showcase known as the NoVA Challenge.
No matter that it was just an all-star game. The home boys wanted the W, and – by two points – they got it.
“It was a great experience,” said Champe’s Dominik Fragala, moments after being named the contest’s Most Outstanding Player. “All season we’re competing against these guys, now we’re playing together, coming together to prove that we’re better than the other areas.”
Even in a season-ending all-star contest, the competitive juices flowed and fundamentals were the order of the day – especially at crunch time.
“The coach [Rock Ridge’s Jay Geyer] drew up a really good play, and we executed,” Loudoun County’s Tyler Karol summed up.
The guys from the inner suburbs got the early jump on the exurbanites, as Arlington/Alexandria moved out to leads of 10-4 and 23-14. Fragala knocked home the game’s first three-pointer, then Karol nailed one and, to close the opening quarter, Rock Ridge’s Blake Blalock connected from the deep baseline with his left-handed shot.
The Loudouners trailed by two.
Dominion’s Mike Elliott dropped in a bucket for Loudoun’s first lead, 32-31 with 9:20 left in the second frame. That lead change signaled the start of a series of back-and-forth swings that had the crowd actually into the game’s score as much as its theatrics.
Loudoun Valley’s Nick Ball sized up a 3-ball for the tie. Potomac Falls Brian Sweeney assisted Broad Run’s Anthony Cooper on another game-tying triple. Sweeney then dished to Ball for a go-ahead jumper before connecting on a long ball of his own from Heritage’s Zachery Garrett, helping Loudoun lead by five at the break.
The locals kept their advantage around nine until Arlington/Alexandria got within two with 90 seconds remaining in the third. That’s when Tuscarora’s Tique Yarbrough dropped home a layup, then stole the in-bounds pass and laid that in for four quick points to go to the fourth up 103-98.
Then began a wild fourth quarter more reminiscent of a playoff elimination game than an all-star exhibition game.
From being tied 105-105, the sides gave back the lead like a fruitcake. Fragala turned a steal into a three-pointer for 110-110, and so it went throughout the 10-minute ultimate stanza in which neither team got up by more than three.
Fragala delivered a long lead pass directly to its target, Heritage’s Chris Chapman, who put it in for a 123-122 Loudoun lead. Fragala then hit his next target too, drilling a three-pointer for 126-122 with 60 seconds remaining.
Arlington responded with a three, then requested a timeout from some rather amused referees. (They’d get more giggles from three more timeouts – two by Loudoun and another by Arlington – they’d call in the last 30 seconds…of an all-star game.)
Fragala hit two of two free throws. Loudoun timeout. Wakefield’s Alan Treakle canned a three for Arlington/Alexandria, tying matters 128-128 with 13 ticks left. Loudoun timeout. A wild, unscripted sequence resulted in Garrett finding himself with the ball under the basket, so he was fouled. Less than three seconds on the clock. Arlington timeout.
When it came his turn, Garrett calmly came out and knocked down the first, then then second free throw, notching his only points. A few seconds later, the Loudouners owned basketball bragging rights over another county for the next year.
“Always in kill mode,” said Fragala with a little smile. “All-star game, pick-up game, anything.”
Shooting and Slamming
Loudoun’s entrants in the dunk contest were Karol, Yarbrough and Riverside’s Jarrett Dusseault, but they more than pulled their weight.
The Raider got up and slammed down a pair of dunks, racking up scores of 27 and 25. The Ram got credit for one dunk, grabbing the ball off an assistant’s palm as he launched toward the rim. As for the Husky, he windmilled down a dunk for a score of 27, then bounced it off the glass for a two-hand stuff and a score of 29, making the final round.
Yarbrough earned a 29 in the final round too, skying to the rafters to rock the rim with a lefty slam. It took Potomac’s Nana Opoku lifting off from near the foul line, registering a perfect 30, to beat him.
In the three-point contest, 26 shooters shot five balls each from five different angles along the arc. The Loudouners fared like so, with Cooper missing out on a berth in the final round by one point:
Blake Blalock (RR), 8
Anthony Cooper (BR), 16+17
Andre Deocampo (BR), 14
Mike Elliott (Dom), 15
Dominik Fragala (JC), 16+16
Brian Sweeney (PF), 17+14
Best College-Ready Ballers In NoVA
They spell it “Nova” Challenge, but “nova” technically means “new” and, this being the Challenge’s fourth incarnation, it’s no longer new. But it was the heaviest attended so far, according to co-founder and former Freedom head coach Kevin Weeren.
“We’re about providing a service to the community,” Weeren said at the conclusion of the Challenge, amidst helping clean up the Riverside gym. “Part of that is about good basketball – and I think we had great basketball here today – and part of that is about benefiting the kids at Douglass. We’re excited to be a part of that.
“I thought it went fantastic.”
This time around, the recipient of financial proceeds from the NoVA Challenge was announced as Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Leesburg.
“We are very fortunate to be the recipients of this donation,” Douglass principal Melissa Logan said into the public-address microphone to the applause of the crowd. “There are a number of initiatives we can do in our school, [like] increasing our STEM materials with iPads and other technologies, and we have a wonderful garden at our school. We are very appreciative.”
Preparations for next year’s event, with a host site to be announced, are already underway. For example, the plethora of senior all-stars that’ll receive an invite to the fifth annual NoVA Challenge are, right now, working their butts off to have a winter good enough to earn it.
“Everyone we invited, came,” Weeren said. “We’re proud of that. Kids want to be part of this game.”
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications