By Randy Arrington
LURAY, April 7 — This week more accolades were added to the long list of memorable moments in the magical 2019-2020 season of the Luray High School girls basketball team.
On Monday, sophomore Emilee Weakley and junior Brynlee Burrill were named first-team All-State selections. The two Bulldogs were listed among the top eight girls basketball players in the state at the 2A level, among the 32 first-team All-Region selections that were eligible.
A total of 16 players earn All-State honors, with eight each on the first and second teams. (A full list of the All-State selections is included at the bottom of the article.)
Weakley averaged nearly 30 points per game this season and previously earned Player of the Year honors in both the Bull Run District and Region 2B.
“She’s wired differently,” LHS head coach Joe Lucas said on Tuesday.
Coach Lucas acknowledged that he and his sophomore standout “go at it sometimes,” but he says, “it’s healthy.”
“It’s the same way in practice,” he says of her hustle on the court.
Weakley asks a lot of questions, he says. She always strives to get better with each practice. That’s why Coach Lucas has no fears of his star player wilting under the pressure of being in the spotlight.
“I have no concerns about her taking a step backwards,” Lucas said.
Burrill — next year’s lone senior — shared some of this season’s spotlight with Weakley.
“She’s smart; she understands the game,” Lucas said. “She’s come a long way… she’s shown a lot of maturity and growth.”
As the only senior, Burrill will be a clear team leader next season. But Coach Lucas says that the point guard contributes more than solid offense.
“She contributes a lot of things that help us win that people in the stands don’t see,” he said.
As much as Weakley and Burrill have meant to the success of the Bulldog’s historic 29-2 season, Coach Lucas is quick to balance the spotlight across his roster.
Courtney Fox is the lone senior who will not be joining the Bulldogs when they hit the court again.
“She cares so much about team,” Lucas said of a player he described as the “perfect teammate.”
“As upper classmen should, she showed a lot of leadership and maturity.”
The Bulldogs return six sophomores (now juniors, as of March 13). Averie Alger and Amber Tharpe saw substantial playing time in addition to classmate Weakley.
Tharpe hit “the shot heard across the county” with a buzzer-beating three-pointer that sent Luray to the Region 2B championship in a thrilling win over county-rival Page.
Freshmen Jaidyn McClung and Lindsay Bly both played key roles on the team this season and will do so again next year.
The impact of the season continues to sink in for Coach Lucas, who says he’d like to start the magical ride all over again. But his biggest takeaway from the 29-2 run, is how far the program has come.
“I’ve said before how people thought we were one year away, or two years away, but I felt the momentum building,” said Lucas, noting that the program only posted four wins two years ago.
While the thrilling wins in the playoffs and going to the state championship at VCU’s Siegel Center were memories he will never forget — Coach Lucas says it’s the little moments that he truly cherished this season.
Teammates helping one another — on and off the court; the interaction with the community and the crowd; and the dedication of his assistant coach and fellow LHS alum, Sarah Getz.
“She’s very intense and high energy,” Lucas said. “We balance each other well. She loves kids and she loves basketball, and that’s the most important two things.”
Coach Lucas says that improving the defense will be a key goal heading into next year, but one area he feels his team matured in was dealing with tight game situations.
“We’ve been in some tight games… at the buzzer at Draft …Amber hitting the three at the buzzer… Strasburg, a few times… but we ran these game situations in practice,” Lucas said. “At the beginning, we coached them through these situations… by the end of the year, we were silent. They coached themselves and got through it.
“You began to see that play out in the game,” Lucas continued. “There was never a game where we thought we wouldn’t win.”
Under normal circumstances, Coach Lucas would have been getting together with his team on Monday to start doing drills. Interested students would have been coming out for an informal practice.
Once the Stay At Home executive order is lifted and things begin to go back to normal, some type of “celebration or banquet” will be held to honor the historic season, according to Lucas.
After finishing as state runner-up on March 12, it’s clear what the Bulldogs main goal is for next season. However, in order to keep his players grounded, Coach Lucas shared a quote with them.
“It’s a quote I heard about coaches, but I substituted ‘player’” Lucas said. “It says, ‘There’s two types of players — a player who is humble, and a player who is about to be humbled.’”
The Luray coach hopes those words will keep his players focused as they try to repeat — and improve on — a truly inspiring 29-2 run. That task seems especially daunting since the Bulldogs suffered no key injuries or real drama that distracted from the task at hand this season.
He also hopes the lessons he learned from former LHS coach Jim Saunders trickle down as well.
“He’s always been a huge mentor,” Lucas said of the Stonewall Jackson High School boys basketball coach. “He showed me that you have to put yourself into it.”
The dedication of both the coach and his players is evident — both on and off the court. They know the sacrifice that’s involved to get to the level they reached. They’ve raised the bar.
Coach Lucas now has a program — a program with a bright future. But the cautious coach knows that his team will have to work hard — and maybe even get a few more shots at the buzzer — in order to repeat the run they made this season.
“I won’t take it for granted,” Coach Lucas said. “I don’t think that will be a problem.”
VHSL 2A All-State selections
Sarah Thompson (Gate City)
Emilee Weakley (Luray)
Alexis Kiser (Floyd County)
Jaedyn Cook (Thomas Jefferson)
Jayda Smith (Union)
Christyan Reid (Strasburg)
Brooklin Frazier (Ridgeview)
Brynlee Burrill (Luray)
Sanijah Robinson (Greensville)
Amaya Lucas (Buffalo Gap)
Sierra Hubbard (Patrick County)
Averie Price (Lebanon)
Allie Patterson (King William)
McKinley Fitzgerald (Stuarts Draft)
Tynasia Witcher (Gretna)
Janiya Medley (Amelia)
Player of the Year
Sarah Thompson (Gate City)
Coach of the Year
Kelley Houseright (Gate City)