Dragons Ready to Return to Richmond for State Semifinals

William Monroe forward Markel Williams says he feels a personal connection with the last boys' basketball team from the school to make a run to states.

"Since 1995 -- I was born in 1995," the senior said earlier this week. "And it's just kind of funny. This is the closest we've got since then. And it's been a long road. We've had a lot of great players. But this team has just been amazing."

Williams -- the Bull Run District and Region B player of the year this season -- and his teammates will make the trip back to Richmond on Thursday. The Dragons face Region D champion Gate City in the Division 2 state semifinals at 9 p.m. at the Siegel Center.

Monroe already has one win on VCU's home floor this postseason. The Dragons used a huge second half to beat Northumberland 74-44 in last Friday's state quarterfinal game.

"I just think we've gotten on a roll at a good time," said senior center JoJo Krynitsky. "Northumberland, we played great defense. We've gone 24 wins this season. We've had a great season, but at the same time, we can't be complacent. We have to stay hungry and get these last two wins."

The Dragons rebounded from a loss to Dan River in the Region B championship with last Friday's state quarterfinal win. That loss snapped a 16-game Monroe winning streak that included an unbeaten run through the Bull Run district.

"Over the years we've had a lot of adversity with our teams, and we haven't really gelled. But this team just loves each other," Williams said. "We hang out all the time, like X-Box and stuff like that. But we just don't want it to end."

Thursday's opponent, Gate City, will be led by 6-7 center Andy Arnold. The senior had 22 points and 11 rebounds in the Blue Devils' 64-52 win in the state quarterfinals last weekend.

"They're a great defensive team. They play great help defense, and they rebound really well," said Williams. "We need to focus on their shooters and their key players. But most of the focus is on us, getting our minds ready. We have to also do the little things, like rebound, and pass the ball, and don't pass the ball too long."

"We're a confident group," said Monroe coach Mike Maynard. "We've won 24 games, and we've played a very hard schedule. So hopefully we're prepared. They're very aggressive defensively, so we know we've got to set good screens, and we've got to run our system."

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